In early 2014, the Fetal Assault Law was enacted despite heavy opposition from the medical field. Under the law, women who gave birth to a baby that was harmed or born dependent on drugs due to the illegal use of narcotics could be charged with aggravated assault. These charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years. On July 1, 2016, we are pleased to announce that it will finally sunset, and women can no longer be charged.

This law was not as effective in treating this issue as lawmakers originally thought. One issue was that it failed to assist opioid addicted pregnant women in finding treatment. These facilities are hard to find because of the increased liability in treating a health issue with little research as well as lack of beds available. Additionally, this law discouraged many women from obtaining the prenatal care that they desperately needed, and encouraged some to do things such as, deliver babies at home or in other states, possible abortions and more just to avoid jail time.

Under this law, an estimated 100 women were arrested. In the documentary, Reaching Recovery, the issues of this law are discussed. Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin explains in the film how he sees these women that are too scared to seek treatment.

“I am really tired of taking little babies away from their mothers, and destroying that bond that can never be recreated,” Judge Irwin says.

The film discusses how overall, it is difficult to find facilities that will take these women due to a shortage of space and lack of insurance.

Lawmakers attempted to extend the law past the sunset date; however, there were not enough votes for it to pass. Most importantly, we want to emphasize to the community that women cannot be charged after July 1. Women who are using drugs during pregnancy should be actively seeking prenatal care and treatment immediately, and they can now do so without the fear of being arrested.

For more information about NAS and the dangers of using drugs during pregnancy, visit  If you are looking for help, call the Tennessee Redline at 1-800-889-9789.