Following a path charted by Tennessee, Republicans in the North Carolina Senate have introduced a bill that would jail pregnant women who are addicted to drugs. The “Prenatal Narcotic Drug Use” bill also applies to mothers of newborns addicted to or harmed by illegal drug use. If passed, advocates are concerned that the law would disproportionately affect women of color and those who are poor. 

“It’s going to discourage women from seeking out prenatal care,” Lynn Shoemaker of Women AdvaNCe tells Public News Service. “If women are actually criminalized for this and they’re sitting in jail, how is that helpful? How are they going to provide for their families, for their children?” The new bill, S297, doesn’t address Shoemaker’s questions.

Taking a criminal rather than public health approach to drug-addicted pregnant women or new moms is nothing new, as Colorlines gender columnist Miriam Zoila Pérez pointed out last July. Punitive responses go back to the since-debunked “crack baby epidemic” of the late 80s-early 90s.

What’s different, today, however is that with bipartisan consensus that the War on Drugs is a failure, statehouse bills like S297 appear out of step with reform conversations happening, now, at the federal level. For example, conservatives Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan have partnered with liberals, Van Jones and Donna Brazile on #Cut50, an initiative to halve the prison population over the next decade.

Oklahoma, which leads the country in female incarceration, is weighing similar punitive legislation to North Carolina’s.

(h/t Public News Service)