This symposium acknowledges that improving maternal, feotal, and child health cannot be distilled into a single issue for a single profession and welcomes everyone to join us in this important discussion - health care providers, lawyers, social workers, caseworkers, journalists, legislators, academics, and activists. Please join us and help spread the word about this important gathering of leading experts.
In April 2014, Tennessee became the first state legislature to ignore the warnings of medical and public health experts and pass a law making childbirth an element of criminal activity. Much of the rhetoric surrounding the law focused on pregnant women who used opioids and the rising rates of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in newborns. Although NAS is a transitory and treatable health condition that some newborns experience, legislators echoed the language of the now discredited 'crack baby' myth and used it to justify this punitive law.
As predicted, the law has done nothing to improve maternal, fetal, and child health, or to increase access to medication-assisted treatments that work. Instead, some pregnant women have already been arrested, and groups are receiving reports of others who are paralyzed with fear about whether to seek prenatal care at all, whether to be open and honest with their providers if they do, and whether to flee the state and give birth someplace where seeking help won't result in jail. National Advocates for Pregnant Women and our Tennessee allies, including Healthy and Free Tennessee and SisterReach, believe the law is immoral and violates numerous constitutional and human rights. It shames and blames individuals instead of acknowledging the myriad failures by the state that harm families, such as barriers to drug treatment, prenatal care, stable and safe housing, and employment.
The Tennessee law passed in spite of significant opposition. One concession to that opposition is that the law will sunset (i.e. stop having an effect) in 2016 unless it is re-enacted by the state legislature. NAPW and the National Perinatal Association are committed to ensuring that policies and practices are based on science, not stigma and medical misinformation. That is why this symposium is bringing together evidence-based research, renowned medical experts, professionals working in a variety of fields, and people directly affected by policies addressing pregnancy, parenting, and drug use, with specific attention to opioids and NAS. The fundamental goal of this symposium is to help distinguish myth from fact, scientific information from media hype, and to provide meaningful tools for improved care, treatment, and advocacy to advance the health and well being of women and their families.
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