‘Fetal assault bill’ dies on tie vote in House sub

A controversial law that criminalizes women who give birth to drug-dependent babies will sunset later this year after a bill in front of a House committee failed Tuesday, reports The Tennessean.

The legislation (HB1660), sponsored by Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, failed to receive the necessary approval from the Criminal Justice subcommittee, as a result of a tie vote on the six-member committee.

Tennessee made national headlines in 2014 after lawmakers passed a law to make it the first state in the nation to penalize women who give birth to babies who test positive for narcotics.

Weaver’s bill specifically sought to extend the law beyond its July 1 sunset date.

Rep. Mike Stewart said he worried the unintended consequences of the law have resulted in people being discouraged from seeking drug treatment. He said the law has even caused some women to seek an abortion.

Reiterating Stewart’s point, Charles Harmuth, a doctor practicing addiction medicine in Coffee County, said, “I do feel that in my practice and also in the meetings that I attend, women do discuss having had abortions and also their fear of being prosecuted.”

Noting that he has seen an increase in the number of therapeutic abortions since 2014, Harmuth said Weaver’s bill would not give women the freedom and trust in the system to come out of the shadows and seek treatment.

“I beg of the committee to look at prevention and treatment as opposed to punitive actions and possible incarceration,” he said.

…Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, sided with the committee’s two Democrats — Reps. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, and Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis — resulting in the bill’s defeat.