Pregnancy holds a special space in most societies; it is a biological necessity for species preservation and represents the promise of future generations. Pregnancy is thought by many to bestow upon women an extra layer of societal protection and care. Social conventions dictate that pregnant women be given priority seating on buses, trains and other forms of transport and in lines for rest rooms and priority rescue during natural disasters. We believe ourselves to be solicitous and helpful to pregnant women and accord them an extra measure of respect.
This month saw an escalation in this perversion of “protection” when Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation that will allow women in the state to be charged with assault for harm to their fetus or newborn that can be attributed to the mother’s use of illegal drugs beginning July 1st. Haslam signed the legislation after “extensive conversations with experts including substance abuse, mental health, health and law enforcement officials,” he wrote in a statement. “The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs.”
Proponents of the measure point to the mandated review of its efficacy and impact after two years and that it classifies the new crime of ‘fetal assault as a misdemeanor instead of a felony as ameliorating factors. Somehow I think that’s a distinction without a difference for women who would forego prenatal care and not risk arrest for any reason, not to mention the notorious tendency of prosecutors to overcharge in order to facilitate plea agreements. Once the door is open to criminalizing women’s behavior during pregnancy, it’s hard to limit the impact. One can’t help but wonder whether there is any connection between Tennessee becoming the first state to enact legislation that would make women subject to criminal punishment because they became pregnant and failed to meet societal expectations and its distinction as the corporate headquarters of the nation’s largest private prison company – Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) – which already operates 3 of the state’s 14 prisons.
Since its founding in 1983, CCA has profited from federal and state policies that have led to a dramatic rise in incarceration in the United States — a rise of 500 percent over the past thirty years (the U.S. population has only increased by 40%). Although it claims that it has not lobbied for bills that extend or increase sentences for prisoners, for nearly two decades CCA participated in and even led the task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that pushed bills like so-called “truth-in-sentencing” and “three strikes” legislation as models for states to adopt across the nation. CCA and its hired lobbying firms have spent about $30.9 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies from 1998 to August 2013 on bills relating to immigration, detention, and private prisons.
– Read the entire article at AlterNet.