NASHVILLE, TN — Senator London Lamar filed a resolution clarifying that pregnant people and their loved ones shouldn’t face criminal or civil penalties for their pregnancy outcomes. The resolution, drafted by Healthy and Free Tennessee, a statewide organization growing the movement for reproductive justice, is the first of its kind in the country and is especially noteworthy coming from the state with the strictest abortion ban in the country. 

Under the current abortion laws of the state, pregnant people should be exempt from prosecution, but they can still be interrogated and their loved ones subject to criminal or civil penalties for supporting them through a pregnancy loss. “Regardless of whether someone experiences a miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, or a live birth, no one should face an investigation, lawsuit, or jail time for their or their loved ones’ pregnancy outcome,” said Nina Gurak, Policy Director with Healthy and Free Tennessee.

The resolution discusses the history and impact of pregnancy criminalization including the history of Tennessee’s so-called “fetal assault” law, which was the first law to explicitly criminalize drug use during pregnancy and was considered a failure by leading medical and legal experts. “In 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill that targeted poor and working class pregnant people. The so-called “fetal assault” legislation set a dangerous precedent and pushed a criminal legal system response to a healthcare issue. Not only did impacted women face criminalization, they also did not receive quality care and were separated from their children. Healthy and Free Tennessee led the fight to ensure that the law did not become permanent and we continue to fight for people to experience pregnancy and birth with dignity, free from criminalization and surveillance,” says Briana Perry, Interim Executive Director at Healthy and Free Tennessee. 

“Given Tennessee’s history of targeting and criminalizing pregnant people, and in a state where more than 3 out of 4 pregnancy-associated deaths are preventable and 60% of counties have little-to-no access to perinatal care, this resolution is a critical step forward in improving meaningful access to healthcare, and promoting the health and wellbeing of vulnerable pregnant people and their loved ones throughout the state of Tennessee,” adds Lindsey Hull, Staff Attorney with Pregnancy Justice, a national organization dedicated to defending the rights of pregnant people against criminalization and other rights violations because of pregnancy and all pregnancy outcomes.

For resolution sponsor, Senator London Lamar, it’s personal: “Like thousands of women across Tennessee, I have experienced pregnancy loss. Under Tennessee’s current law, certain pregnancy outcomes have become cause for investigation. Women and their loved ones should not be subjected to criminal charges during one of the most traumatic times of their lives.”

“Tennessee is the volunteer state. We should be able to help our friends, family, and neighbors with their pregnancies without fear of legal action against us,” added Gurak.