The Unethical Opposition To Tennessee’s Fetal Drug Abuse Protection Law

200439961-001Tennessee is one of the most activist states that it comes to protecting children; for example, it has the among most stringent laws in the nation regarding the mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. It also has a new law that just went into effect this month that allows officials to arrest mothers for assault who illegally use narcotics while they are pregnant if the child is born with symptoms indicating that the drug use impaired the child’s condition.

Predictable and tiresomely, the media and “war on women” scolds are attacking this is yet another incursion on the rights of women to have dominion over their own bodies. Think Progress, dishonestly, calls it a “pregnancy criminalization law.”  This is intentional misrepresentation, a TP specialty. The law doesn’t criminalize pregnancy in any way, by even the most distorted interpretation.  The knee-jerk opposition to the law highlights the problems of consistency and integrity that the women’s rights and pro-abortion forces have in all the areas relating to childbirth. Essentially, their position is that if conduct is related to child birth—or preventing it—in any way, anything they say, want or do must be accepted, and asserting otherwise, no matter what the justification, makes the government an oppressor of women.

The Tennessee law is narrowly drawn and legally consistent. Mothers are now on notice that taking illegal drugs while pregnant is likely to harm their gestating fetuses. The state has an appropriate role to play by stating that doing so is not just unwise but wrong. The state also has a legitimate interest in protecting innocent life, both by its laws and the messages those laws send. Yet a coalition of reproductive rights and criminal justice groups in Tennessee have launched a protest against the legislation,called “Healthcare Not Handcuffs,” arguing that threatening women with criminal charges dissuades them from coming forward to get the medical help they need and that the law will fall most heavily on the poor and minorities.

The reason I believe that the current state of abortion legalization will not stand over time is controversies like this one, which expose the conveniently shifting values and standards of the women’s rights and reproductive rights movement, as well as the dubious quality of those standards. A late term embryo is protected under the law: a women and her doctor cannot legally choose to abort it except to save the life of the mother. Yet opponents of the Tennessee law are arguing that no penalties should be attached to the conduct of willfully harming that legally acknowledged life if it comes as a result of the mother’s illegal drug use. Why? If a husband killed his eight month pregnant wife to make sure she didn’t give birth to a child fathered by another man, he would be charged with two murders. Would the opponents of this law similarly assert that an eight month pregnant woman could induce an abortion by taking doses of poison, or by repeatedly punching herself in the gut?

Well, maybe they would, as many of these advocates, for the sake of advocacy, refuse to acknowledge that an unborn child should have any rights at all when it the child’s mother who is harming him or her. These same advocates are, in many cases, the first to accuse opponents of gun restrictions as not caring about the welfare of young children. The lives of innocent children are paramount, unless protecting those lives mean that members of an exalted group actually have to be responsible, or, if not, suffer the consequences. I do not think that “reproductive rights” include the right of a mother to cripple her child because she insists on using a drug that it is illegal to use anyway.

It would be interesting to examine the origins of the illogical yet strangely respected trend of social activists moving from the goal of ensuring that women and minority groups are treated equally by the law, to the position that the groups should have special dispensation from the laws, prohibitions and values that everyone else must live by. I can’t harm a woman’s unborn child, but she can, and moreover, she is allowed to claim that she’s only abusing her body even though the Supreme Court—a liberal Supreme Court, not the nasty, women-hating Supreme Court majority we have now—ruled decades ago that by the third trimester, another legally-protected life is involved. A disproportionate number of poor and minority mothers continue to use illegal drugs (that is, engage in criminal activity) after they are pregnant, so, say the compassionate activists, we should eliminate laws that would hold them responsible for this. If mostly white and wealthy mothers were the ones crippling their children, presumably such laws wouldn’t be seen as a priority. This is, you will notice, a thinly veiled “everybody does it” rationalization applied to the law. If a disproportionate number of a favored group is breaking a law, then the law is unjust, and the conduct must be regarded as legal.

This is all ethically incoherent, intellectually dishonest, and expedient. It is not a “war on women” to require mothers to be responsible and law abiding, particularly when the health and welfare of children are involved.

It is unethical for a mother to use illegal drugs.

It is unethical for a mother to jeopardize the health of her unborn child—at any stage of development—by using illegal drugs.

It is unethical to negligently cause harm to a child that the rest of society will have to pay for, perhaps for a lifetime.

It is ethical for the state to take measures to protect innocent and helpless lives, which, under U.S. law, a third trimester unborn child is.

If it is ethical for the state to protect such a life against harm inflicted by others, it is ethical for the state to do against harm inflicted by the mother.

Naturally, Tennessee has shot itself in the metaphorical foot by choosing as its first violator of the law a mother who used an illegal drug that may not be covered by the law.  (The law is probably too narrow; it should include, for example, alcohol abuse.) The inability of our various governments to craft laws competently and enforce them consistently is another problem for another day. It is reasonable for the government to put all mothers on notice that if they abuse their unborn child by taking illegal drugs, and the child is born with health problems as a result, the mother will be held accountable.

The arguments to the contrary by women’s groups and others seem to embrace a shifting definition of life, and inconsistent views regarding the priority of protecting children, all to protect politically favored groups at the expense of good policy, public health,responsible conduct and common sense.

_______________________

Pointer: Fark

Sources: Think Progress 1, 2: The Tennessean

 

48 thoughts on “The Unethical Opposition To Tennessee’s Fetal Drug Abuse Protection Law

  1. ” Yet a coalition of reproductive rights and criminal justice groups in Tennessee have launched a protest against the legislation, called “Healthcare Not Handcuffs,” arguing that threatening women with criminal charges dissuades them from coming forward to get the medical help they need and that the law will fall most heavily on the poor and minorities.”

    So, are they claiming that only the poor and minorities use drugs? It would seem that that, in itself, is unethical and is throwing another group under the bus because there are more women than poor and minorities. In other words, women have more votes.

    • Wayne, More to your point, if this new law dissuades them from coming forth for treatment why was their no mass rush to get treatment before the law was passed. I can make the same irrational claim about those that drive while intoxicated. If treatment was a priority then they would seek help. I suspect that the reason the law was passed was because the drug users did not choose to seek treatment prior to or during the pregnancy and thus it was necessary to up the penalty to dissuade some from continuing to use or start using drugs in the first place.

  2. I see that the A.M.A has came out in opposition against the new law. What are they thinking!!! Methamphetamine that is present in a mother’s bloodstream can pass through the placenta to a fetus and is or be secreted into breast milk and the multiple harmful effects it has on adults has been amply documented.

      • That cuts both ways. Punishment means more money for police, prosecutors, prisons, and prison guards, so it’s no small wonder so many of them oppose decriminalization.

          • I suspect most members of both groups believe their preferred option really is the best. I also suspect that both groups contain a significant minority whose motives are self interested. Unfortunately, people are excellent at rationalizing their own preferences to be good rather than self interested so there may be no way to determine how much of an impact self interest really has in the debate.

      • “Treatment” is also an extra-judicial pathway to “imprison”, “exile”, or otherwise seek to punish or restrict people’s liberty without worrying about Due Process or Laws.

        We’ve set up the infrastructure concretely for this now.

        Nothing is a crime, just a mental or chemical imbalance, for which there is no prison, only therapy or facilities.

    • By the terms of the law, if a child is diagnosed after birth as suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome and related health issues, then it constitutes criminal and willful assault.. If a woman doesn’t use sufficient alcohol to harm the child, then there is no crime.

  3. The article outlines a list of ethical issues that I doubt anyone on the other side would seriously disagree with. Most everyone involved wants to protect children and babies. The question is what to do about it. This woman is addicted to meth and is about to become a mother to this child. That child is totally dependent on the mother. Being a mom is an incredible challenging and difficult job for anyone. Now try and do it in poverty and while you are addicted to meth. Good luck!

    So does it follow then that the best thing to do for the child is to throw another roadblock into the works and throw the mother in jail? Obviously the law didn’t deter her from using meth in the first place, what good is it going to do to throw her in jail? And how much additional harm is it going to do to her baby? How much better off would that child be if they took all the money they would spend on the courts and jailing her and used it to help that woman deal with drug addiction rather than just throwing her in a jail cell. That’s the argument I hear from the left.

    • Me too.
      The other argument is that if women know they can get away with using drugs and hurting their child, they will. So they go to jail, and the child ends up in foster homes. It’s called deterrence. Easy to avoid, just like drunk driving: if you are going to be a mother, don’t use drugs. Or else.

      • That presumes that in most cases a drug-addicted mother even wants to take care of that child. Many of these women come from a world where they themselves were in foster care or grew up with random relatives. You are looking at this issue with the wrong glasses. Of course, you and I would see such a law as a deterrent from abusing drugs — because you and I are good parents and would never use drugs in the first place.

    • How much harm would it do to that child? NONE. And it might just save his/her life. Somebody snorts a line of crank, they become useless as a parent or any other kind of caregiver. Add to that, if she is snorting that crank while pregnant, the BABY will be hooked on it when born.

      • I can see from your perspective why you support the law. It sounds like you believe that if we spend money sending her to jail that this will stop her from doing it again and that this will help her child. You both know that meth isn’t like narcotics right? Meth is a stimulant and people are in fact usually very productive when they take it. The addiction model is quite a bit different from that of opiate narcotics. Not to say that doing meth is good for parenting, there is a serious come down that drains the user, but it isn’t the same as being high on heroin or even marijuana.

        • I was snorting crank before you were born, along with a wide variety of other drugs, including some that were highly addictive. I’ve forgotten more about it than you will ever know, I hope.

    • “The question is what to do about it. This woman is addicted to meth and is about to become a mother to this child. That child is totally dependent on the mother. Being a mom is an incredible challenging and difficult job for anyone. Now try and do it in poverty and while you are addicted to meth. Good luck!”

      This statement is based on the faulty assumption that all moms are inherently good by virtue of simply being female. The statement also asserts that all babies are totally dependent on their moms. How can this be true when women who find themselves unable to care for themselves rely on social programs to exist. Now, you introduce an innocent third party, the baby, into the mix and you have a person unable to attend to their own needs having to care for a baby that resulted from the women’s right to copulate at will. Now society must care for the child with no way to influence the child’s development because we seem to feel that keeping the child with the drug abusing mother is of paramount importance. Why? By doing so, the child is sentenced to a life of poverty, probable violence, inadequate education, and a distorted view of the world. The cycle then repeats itself in subsequent generations.

      Children, born to mothers that are unable or unfit to raise them due to their own personal choices, are not dependent on the mom but on society to ensure they have the best chance of success. If this means locking up the mom and raising the child well away from those negative influences, maybe that is in the best interest of the child.

      Maternal rights, like all rights, come with some responsibility. You cannot excuse behavior that is detrimental to the development of the child simply by saying being a mom is a tough job. So is being a father, but unfortunately society only views the father as a means of financial support. Women’s groups have been very good at diminishing the paternal role in a child’s development. Being either a mother or father means that you must subordinate your own wants and needs for the benefit of the child you created – accidentally or by choice. The failure to do so vitiates some of the parent’s rights because society will be left with the responsibility.

      • “Children, born to mothers that are unable or unfit to raise them due to their own personal choices, are not dependent on the mom but on society to ensure they have the best chance of success. If this means locking up the mom and raising the child well away from those negative influences, maybe that is in the best interest of the child.”

        The problem is that the statistics do not support what you are saying. Children raised in foster care face incredible challenges and are at higher risk of dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy, drug use, etc. Because of this, judges now desperately try to get children back to their parents — even if there is evidence of prior drug use, neglect, etc., because the stats show that a child usually is better off with a crummy parent vs. a decent foster care situation. It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around that concept, but it’s true unfortunately.

        This is why we need to pay the poor NOT to have children.

        • Beth,
          Not knowing the source of the data you used makes it difficult to refute. You mentioned these foster care children are at higher risk of teen pregnancy, dropping out etc. but you do not say higher risk than what; the traditional nuclear family or the meth addicted single parent. You did not define crummy parent. Statistics are often misused to create a false narrative. I am not saying that you did that but Jack’s entire piece is based on the idea that women’s groups will distort the issue to achieve a political victory. If I were an advocate for a mother facing jail time I too would tout a statistic that shows that children raised in foster care are more likely to engage in detrimental behaviors even if the control group was composed of fine upstanding pillars of the community; leaving my audience to infer that I was comparing foster care to crack addict moms even though they were not in the control group.

          Nonetheless, if we accept your premise that foster care is not advantageous to the child then foster care then it should be abolished, reducing the state’s cost to provide such care. Perhaps, the reason that foster care does not work well is that we have too few qualified care givers and those that are chosen are in it for the money only. I understand that the Federal government recently put out an RFP for care givers in Arizona to provide housing for the undocumented children coming from Central America. Care givers are promised $7,000 per child per month. Quite an incentive to give a child a room. You can do the math. Kids are pretty astute, they know when they are wanted and when they are the meal ticket for a couple of uncaring adults. If foster parents are in it only for the money then they are unqualified to hold the position.

          I would agree that they are at higher risk than the traditional nuclear family or even working single moms and dads. I don’t buy that they are better off with an individual that exchanges sex for drugs, is often in a stupor that prevents them from positively interacting and guiding the child, or is willing to expose the unborn child to toxins for personal pleasure.

          How exactly does the child gain unconditional love from a parent that is driven chemically to do whatever it takes to achieve her/his state of euphoria? Unconditional love is demonstrated by actions and not mere words. If they truly had unconditional love for the child they would get off the drugs or want to have the child in a better place.

          Finally, paying people not to have children is social blackmail. It also reinforces the negative behavior of the parent. The goal should be that we do not financially reward individuals for irresponsible behavior. Perhaps if we pay welfare recipients a flat amount – say enough to provide for three children – and never increase or decrease it no matter how many kids they have there would be a higher incentive not to get pregnant.

          • This body of research is conclusive at this time. If you doubt me, 5 minutes on Google will get you all the back-up you need.

            The problem is that foster care is different than adoption. Foster care is temporary, so the child only ever feels like a guest in the best of homes, not a wanted child. Add to that the fact that the child knows that his/her mom is out there, maybe even in the same community. Indeed the child may have been with the parent for years and has a deep attachment, even if there is neglect in the home. And, these children often have emotional or learning disabilities making the adjustment even more challenging. Finally, many foster homes themselves involve violence or neglect with other biological or foster children. All this adds up to a recipe for disaster but for the lucky few. But research has shown that state run orphanages produce even worse results.

            So what to do? Education, education, education. People need to learn that whether to have children, when to have children, with whom to have children, and how many children to have are the most important decisions that they will ever make. But, until then, I’m willing to bribe people which will cost a fraction of what it does now.

            • I don’t think I could get behind paying people not to have children because I don’t think it would work – it would be another government program that failed. We are all made to have children, those are natural instincts. Its like paying people not to eat. They are still going to eat.

              I work in education and one of the questions we must answer about every lesson we teach is how will we know if it worked? How will you prove that the students have learned? So I’ll put that same question to all of you, how will you know if this law works? What evidence do you want to see that will prove that locking new mothers up for drug use is a good law?

              • Yep, because as directly to the point as “pay to not have children” or “pay to have children” policies seem to be, the problem isn’t “having children”.

                The problem, as every adult parent knows, is that the goal is to manufacture responsible, stable, mature adults. If there were to be a governmental incentive it would have to address that. Which is an nearly impossible thing to standardize.

                What? At age 18, every individual is administered a rigorous battery of exams and practical tests?

                The parents of those who pass get a tax break for the duration of their life for a job well done parenting and those children get full citizenship status?

                The parents of those who just barely fail but don’t represent a drain on society don’t get anything?

                The parents of those who fail so miserably that they will be a drain on society pay a fine?

                Yeah…

                • I don’t know if my idea would work, but it roughly would be everyone gets a certain amount of money each year from 18 to 30 for NOT having a baby, At 30 and up you get the normal tax breaks for having children. Even if we can convince young people for just a few years not to have kids it would greatly reduce the welfare state crisis that we have right now — and we would have a better educated, stable, and financially secure populace.

                    • True. But then we’d have a large hungry class who will start chanting “Viva la revolution!” Every dollar that was spent on the welfare state would have to go into an even larger police state.

                    • True. But then we’d have a large hungry class who will start chanting “Viva la revolution!” Every dollar that was spent on the welfare state would have to go into an even larger police state.

                      And this large hungry class would start attacking police officers?

  4. Wouldn’t giving free / cheap access to birth control and abortions save us a lot of money here?

    You begin this article by praising Tennessee, but the place is an absolute nightmare of crime and drug abuse.

    Why does the liberal mecca Massachusetts have some of the lowest crime, drug, divorce, and abortion rates? Why do they have the highest rated public school system in the country?

    • I didn’t praise Tennessee. You are projecting. I think many of its child abuse measures are excessive, in fact.

      I’m from Massachusetts. (I’m there now, in fact.) It is not a “liberal Mecca.” It has a strong ethical and moral culture that is based in its religious origins, and maintains many conservative values. Massachusetts is pro individual rights. Don’t get it confused with California, Oregon and Washington. The states have different cultures, and policies that work in some don’t work in others.

  5. “It would be interesting to examine the origins of the illogical yet strangely respected trend of social activists moving from the goal of ensuring that women and minority groups are treated equally by the law, to the position that the groups should have special dispensation from the laws, prohibitions and values that everyone else must live by.”

    Origins…Mental illness?

    No but really, the origins lie in wanting power and knowing that the best way to power is to divide the community against itself and to promise various components benefits. Then word the campaigns of those benefits as though other components are in opposition to the benefitted component’s rights in their entirety.

  6. In the ThinkProgress comments, a commenter named Kathi Jones-Hudson “referenced women’s subservience to men and male chauvinism across all cultures.” Not just American culture, or evwen just Saudi culture, all cultures?

    How is this even possible. Should not men and women have an equal chance of being subservient to the opposite sex in a randomly chosen culture? There is absolutely no factual basis to believe that men are somehow more easily able to make women subservient than the reverse. To claim otherwise would be to claim that men have some natural advantage over women, which only sexists would believe to be true. Surely nature itself is not sexist, right?

  7. I am liberal. I am pro-choice. I see body autonomy as an important right.

    I do not see how this law tramples on any of these things. You are not punishing a woman simply for taking drugs while pregnant. You are punishing a woman only if the narcotics taken when pregnant make the child born dependent on, or otherwise harmed by, those drugs.

    If the woman gestates until birth, the intent to have a child is there. Perhaps the law could be made better by allowing a woman to get treatment for her additions and as such avoid any criminal prosecution for trying to prevent the harm that would be done without treatment. And perhaps the law could be made even better by making sure these women have the ability to afford such treatment.

    But if your intent with your pregnancy is to give birth and have a child, the state has a reasonable and rational purpose to make sure that such children born are not harmed.

    • Dan, as much as I enjoy (and sometimes agree with…rarely) your comments, it isn’t your body we’re talking about. At the risk of starting a fight with you, it is a separate human being, sometimes called a baby, who is totally dependent on the goodwill of the mother for it’s survival. Trying to define when life starts is, in my mind, ludicrous, because at no point is either the sperm or the egg “not alive”. You can attempt to define when the fetus (and I use that term in deference to your belief…for me they are babys at conception) becomes “human” but philosophically, that is a seriously slippery slope. Does a woman have a choice? Yes. And that choice is NOT to become pregnant. Free sex is not a right, but a privilege, and, consequently, has responsibilities attached. Using abortion as a means of birth control is just wrong. There are too many other options available to make it the only viable option.

      That said, I cannot say that I oppose ALL abortion. There are circumstances in which abortion is the only logical choice. I am familiar with a case in which a pregnancy was terminated because an IUD had become entwined with the fetus, and the baby would not have survived…and in all likelihood, neither would have the mother. In that case, and many like it, a D&C was the only viable option. I am also aware of the emotional trauma of the mother. Unfortunately, there was no other option. Fortunately, she had other children, and was fertile for some years afterwards. However, abortion on demand is something that I will never support, nor will I support a mothers right to be perpetually stoned while pregnant. In that, I think, we can agree.

    • “I see body autonomy as an important right.”

      So do conservatives. Too bad Lefties make the errant argument that the baby in part of the woman’s body. The baby isn’t and the argument falls apart.

      “If the woman gestates until birth, the intent to have a child is there. Perhaps the law could be made better by allowing a woman to get treatment for her additions and as such avoid any criminal prosecution for trying to prevent the harm that would be done without treatment. And perhaps the law could be made even better by making sure these women have the ability to afford such treatment.

      But if your intent with your pregnancy is to give birth and have a child, the state has a reasonable and rational purpose to make sure that such children born are not harmed.”

      So as long as a human being is wanted by a “higher ranking” human being, then the 1st human being gets rights. If not wanted, it doesn’t have rights.

      Christ…

      Extending your logic of the rest of that would basically exempt a pregnant woman from the fetal abuse law, if she intends to get an abortion but continues to slam drugs willy nilly.

      • The fetal abuse law being discussed here only punishes the woman IF the child is born harmed and/or addicted to the narcotics.

        I am saying I have no problem with the law. Amazing some of you people still find ways to argue. Proves to me that you just want to be argumentative.

            • Then you don’t get to wildly assert argumentativeness when problems are pointed out. You don’t realize this, but “If the woman gestates until birth, the intent to have a child is there” says much more than you thinks.

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