When giving birth is a crime

In 2014, Tennessee made it illegal to give birth to a baby with drugs in its system. I spent six months investigating the effects of this new law, reporting from Tennessee and co-writing a 4,000-word piece that appeared in The Nation.

We wanted to find out who would be affected, and how. We uncovered a disturbing trend – women were being driven underground, avoiding prenatal care and drug treatment in order to protect themselves from the punitive effects of the law. We learned that pregnant women who wanted drug treatment found themselves in a Catch-22 where they were unable to get it. We followed the women who were arrested, and discovered one’s suicide. All the women were poor.

The piece remains the most comprehensive to date on the effects that the law had on Tennessee’s drug-using women. It was honored by Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists.

At the time, I spoke to WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, along with my colleague Rosa Goldensohn, about the piece. We undertook the project as students at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.