First Woman Charged on Controversial Law that Criminalizes Drug Use During Pregnancy

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Meet Mallory Loyola. This 26-year-old woman was the “unlucky” first recipient of the state of Tennessee’s new law that now adds assault to the list of charges when a pregnant woman takes drugs. The law only went into effect a few weeks ago.
After Mallory gave birth this week, both her and her new baby tested positive for methamphetamine.
With this law, if a woman gives birth to a child that has been harmed or is addicted to the drug(s) in question, she is prosecuted for assault on top of the usual illegal use of a narcotic. Mallory admitted that she had smoked meth just days before the infant’s birth.

“Anytime someone is addicted and they can't get off for their own child, their own flesh and blood, it's sad,” Monroe County Sheriff Bill Bivens said. “Hopefully it will send a signal to other women who are pregnant and have a drug problem to seek help. That's what we want them to do,” he continued.

But Tennessee’s new law also has its opponents and critics both statewide and nationwide. They worry that such a law will keep drug-addicted pregnant women from seeking help or treatment. The ACLU of Tennessee, which is seeking to change the law, describes it as “raising serious constitutional concerns regarding equal treatment under the law.”

“This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges,” legal director of the ACLU in Tennessee, Thomas Castelli, said. “By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need.”

Even the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli, said, just before Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law, “the federal government doesn’t want to criminalize addiction.”

“What's important is that we create environments where we're really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women, who often have a lot of shame and guilt about their substance abuse disorders,” he said. “We know that it's usually a much more effective treatment and less costly to our taxpayers if we make sure that we're treating folks.”

But Governor Haslam, after signing the bill, released a statement claiming “the intent of the law is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs.”

The law does allow anyone charged to use their entering a treatment program before birth and successfully completing it afterwards as a defense. As for Mallory Loyola, she was released on $2,000 bail and has been charged with a misdemeanor. It’s not clear if she indeed entered any such treatment program.

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