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Tennessee mom becomes first charged under law targeting prenatal drug use

A 26-year-old Tennessee woman has become the first mother to be charged under a state law that criminalizes all drug use by pregnant women.

Mallory Loyola was arrested and charged Tuesday with simple assault after she and the baby girl she gave birth to on July 6 both tested positive for meth, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to msnbc Friday.

Loyola told police she smoked the drug a few days before she gave birth. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum sentence of one year.

Tennessee became the first state in the nation to allow charges to be brought against new mothers for using drugs while pregnant. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill in April.

Civil liberties advocates have opposed laws like Tennessee’s, saying that spreading them throughout the country would create a “public health disaster” for women and children, most of them poor.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee issued a call for plaintiffs in order to challenge the law following Loyola’s arrest. Thomas Castelli, legal director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement, “This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges.”

No other states in the U.S. explicitly allow prosecutors to charge mothers for using drugs while pregnant, but 17 states consider it a child welfare offense. Courts in South Carolina and Alabama have both ruled that criminal statutes can be applied to pregnant women who use drugs.

And, according to a recent report by RH Reality Check, mothers in states that have recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana can also face child-endangerment charges, even if there is no harm to the child.

“A woman may be prosecuted for an assault offense for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug and the addiction or harm is a result of her illegal use of a narcotic drug taken while pregnant,” the law Tennessee states. The new law took effect on July 1.