First Woman Arrested Under Tennessee Pregnancy Criminalization Law, for a Drug Not Covered Under the Law


Read more of our coverage on the Tennessee Pregnancy Criminalization Law here.

A woman in Tennessee was arrested on Tuesday under a new law that criminalizes mothers whose babies are exposed to certain illegal drugs in utero. The law went into effect only a week prior to the arrest, which was made after her newborn tested positive for amphetamine.

Though the law specifically criminalizes “the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if [a woman's] child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug,” local reporting suggests that the woman, Mallory Loyola, was arrested for exposing her child to amphetamine, which is not a narcotic. Initial reports also make no mention of the presence of symptoms of withdrawal nor that the child was harmed by the exposure.

Loyola, who is the first person to be prosecuted under the law, was charged with assault, according to local TV station WBIR, a misdemeanor offense that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500.

Politicians in the state emphasize that the so-called Pregnancy Criminalization Law is intended to protect children. “The focus of this legislation is to protect babies being born addicted to drugs,” said Shelby County Attorney General Amy Weirich in a statement. “We are not talking about going after women who show up at their OB/GYN with a positive drug screen.”

But Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women, notes that the use of the word “addiction” to describe infants exposed to drugs in utero is a vestige from the “crack babymyth, and is incorrect and misleading. “Babies cannot be born addicted to any substance,” Diaz-Tello told RH Reality Check. “Addiction means a specific thing, it is a behavioral condition, and is distinct from dependency and simply experiencing withdrawal. You can’t say that they are addicted because they are not showing drug-seeking behavior.”

Diaz-Tello also says that laws like the one in Tennessee are actually a threat to public health, because they deter women who struggle with drug addiction from entering rehabilitation programs for fear of being held criminally liable. “If pregnant women are afraid they’ll be prosecuted if they’re honest with their doctors and seek medical help, they won’t seek the help,” she said.

Children like the one born to Loyola will be referred to the state’s child services and could potentially be removed from their parents.

In addition, the law mistakenly focuses only on the illegal use of drugs during pregnancy. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription painkillers alone were the cause of “14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined.” Almost 20 percent of those painkillers were obtained legally, through a doctor’s prescription.

Tennessee is the first state to pass such a law through its legislative process. South Carolina and Alabama also permit women to be prosecuted for pregnancy outcomes, though the practice was legalized through the court system, not by the legislature.

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  • kitler

    Why is it acceptable for a fetus to inject a woman with addictive and toxic substances but not the other way around?

    • Shan

      That’s a terrible comparison and I’m not even sure why you made it.

      • kitler

        Because, pro liars are in denial about how zefs assault women in order to sustain their lives and grow big and healthy.

        Zefs are always angels in the PL mind, even if they are killing the pregnant person.

        I was explaining the things an embryo does to a pregnant person that would constitute assault if done by a stranger, and she accused me of being hyperbolic and refused to talk to me from that point on. Scientific evidence to back up my claim was also ignored. Zefs are angels, case closed!

        • Shan

          I’m still confused. Did I miss a conversation somewhere?

          • kitler

            No. The above is the point I was making.

            Forced pregnancy and any harms inflicted upon a woman by a zef are not actually harms cuz zefs are special.

          • Shan

            Ah. I guess I was a little slow on the uptake there. Sorry.

    • A. T.

      Ideally no one would be injecting anyone. Which would be where we’d try to get more support and treatment options available.

      • kitler

        Admit it. Talking to attila makes you wanna inject yourself with goofballs!

        I’m glad I was gone all day.

        • A. T.

          No, actually. His views are odd enough that i’m more ‘ o_O bwah?’ and mildly concerned. JudgyBitch is the one that gets to me, with the whole ‘let’s shame victims of pedophiles!!!’ thing and other comments I won’t repost here in the an effort to *not* make people ill this time.

          There’s real venom there. Does that make sense?

          • kitler

            JudgyBitch is so full of shit. She just makes shit up.

          • A. T.

            She’s one of the ones that I think truly despises women. I talk to various MRAs and some are hurt, angry and so on. Some even have good points or legit grievances on occasion. Her? No. She genuinely dislikes women.

            I got blocked for calling out her double standards re: victims of rape and pedophilia. She doesn’t like me much.

          • Shan

            “She’s one of the ones that I think truly despises women.”

            Looking at her website, I think it’s more of the good girl/bad girl whore/madonna thing. Start by creating your own definition of what feminism is (something that doesn’t actually exist, i.e., “man-hating, miserable sluts” as she calls us), classify as one every woman who disagrees with that definition, and voila: you’re one of the good gals. So you gain automatic entry into/protection from the REAL MEN’S club. For so long as you continue to play by *their* rules, anyway.

    • Ineedacoffee

      Cos like fetuses are the almighty awesome in the world and nothing else matters

      *sarcasm lol*

      Sidenote, would love a sarcasm font

  • Attila_L_Vinczer

    One comment? My newest friend, kitler.

  • red_zone

    This was a bad idea from the start, and will only get worse.

  • Annapolitan

    I think your whole “meth isn’t a narcotic” argument may be problematic.

    The term “narcotic” has different meanings. Specifically, in medicine it means any psychoactive drug that induces sleep, so it usually refers to an opiate, i.e. heroin, morphine, oxycodone, etc.

    But the term “narcotic” has a different legal meaning and is used to denote a class of drugs that is prohibited. So this may include drugs that aren’t opiates. For example, under Tennessee law cocaine and methamphetamine could be considered narcotics, even though neither contains sleep-inducing properties.

    I wonder how it came to light that this new mother had used meth prior to delivery. Did they screen her for the presence of illegal drugs? Did they do so based on a statement she made or did they do it surreptitiously and without her consent? Is routine drug screening of all maternity patients a part of this new law to criminalize drug use during pregnancy?

    • John

      All that “narcotic definition” conversation aside for now, you can be assured that this law was created to be used against minorities and all the trailer park denizens can continue to have their meth labs and babies without any consequence. This is what this is really about.

    • diaztello

      For the purposes of advancing the public discussion about why we should have compassion and support rather than punish drug users, you are right, the distinctions between narcotics in the medical sense and in the colloquial sense are inconsequential. But for the purposes of fair administration of the law, it makes all the difference. The Tennessee Code says that women will be punished if they illegally use narcotics, and then defines narcotics in such a way that it does not include methamphetamine. Say what you will about the law, it does not apply to this woman. Nor should it if the aim is to punish women whose babies are “addicted” – there is no neonatal withdrawal sequence associated with methamphetamine. This just goes to show what we always knew to be the case: the prosecutors would immediately push or transgress the limits of the law as written. It is only a matter of time before women are charged with harsher crimes despite the assurances that it would only be misdemeanor assault, and charged due to other, non drug-related acts.

      • Karie Ryan Ordway

        Absolutely correct. The purpose of this law was not what it was written for. The proof is in its first application.

  • Nicko Thime

    This is bad law. It is based on belief in sin, not science and is the first step in criminalizing abortion

    • JamieHaman

      It is bad law, and makes for bad medicine too.

      It’s a very long way past the first step in criminalizing abortion. It’s about step 15 imo.

  • TellMeImDreaming

    Do they have dunking at the trials?

  • BelligerentBruncher

    This is a bullshit law. A woman has the right to harm her fetus any way she wants because it is not a person.

    • A. T.

      That’s not the point. You want women to seek drug treatment and prenatal care, especially if they’re addicts. Jail will not promote this.

      • Rhodium

        Those are BOTH good points. A pregnant woman has the same rights as anyone else. Whether the fetus is a person is irrelevant. It’s not the woman, and if the woman is having substance abuse problems (or other problems that would harm a pregnancy), it’s not like that’s going away as soon as there’s an unintended pregnancy. And incarceration is not the answer for drug crimes.

  • Ineedacoffee

    Well done Tennessee, you have just started an underground birthing suite. The blood of these women is on your hands
    All this law will do is scare women into hiding, they don’t choose addiction

    • A. T.

      And the babies will be so much healthier when mom’s are afraid to seek prenatal care! *sarcasm*

      • Shan

        Exactly. Ugh. No help for “the unborn children” just more punishment for women.

  • bvocal

    This is what happens when laws are written by people who don’t know what they are doing, bad science, bad logic, bad morality.

  • Rdzkz

    Yes, this woman has enough problems and a fee of $2,500 will not help. Just raise taxes on the wealthy who have stolen $700BILLION from each state, 1/50th of the PresBuxh tax cuts of $3.6TRILLION!

    • Shan

      .

  • Jennifer Jonsson

    Interesting that substances that cause actual harm to infants, like tobacco and alcohol, aren’t included. Nor is skiing while pregnant (yes, there are ski resorts in Tennessee). Oh, wait, I guess those would violate somebody’s civil rights, wouldn’t they?
    My blog post about all this: http://www.bigbadbuddhist.blogspot.com/2014/07/pregnant-with-contradictions.html

  • IntelliWriter

    It’s getting dangerous to be a woman in the United Staes, especially the South.

  • lady_black

    Cigarettes and alcohol are legal. You can’t make a “special class” with less rights than anyone else out of pregnant women.