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CBS: Law on Drug Abuse While Pregnant Limits 'What Women Can' Do With Their Bodies?

The journalists at CBS This Morning on Thursday skeptically examined a new law in Tennessee that allows criminal charges for pregnant women who abuse drugs. Co-anchor Norah O'Donnell warned, "...The ACLU says this law is dangerous. It could prevent women from getting necessary prenatal care." 

Talking to CBS legal analyst Rikki Klieman, co-anchor Gayle King fretted, "But doesn't it raise a question if the state is trying to get involved in what a woman can and cannot do with her body?" [MP3 audio here.] Of course, the fact that drug use is already illegal didn't seem to cross King's mind. She continued, "Doesn't that raise a whole other set of issues that no one wants to get involved with?" Among the networks, CBS alone has covered the newly signed law, while ABC and NBC ignored it.  

Klieman, after allowing that "the women's groups who have spoken out against this law," proceeded to note its potential. She argued, "But this just isn't about the pregnancy. If you're a drug addict, you're giving birth to a drug-addicted child." 

Klieman added: 

RIKKI KLIEMAN: We have in Tennessee 921 cases last year of neonatal abstinence syndrome meaning a child born of a pregnant mother who was drug addicted, the child is addicted. And what happens to this child is horrific. 

MSNBC's Tamron Hall on Thursday also worried about the "strict new law in Tennessee" that is "igniting controversy." However, unlike the CBS story, Hall ignored a key fact. She simply insisted that "women can be arrested and jailed for using drugs while pregnant." 

While that's true, Hall avoided an important point that was explained on CBS. O'Donnell clarified, "A mother can avoid going to jail if she enrolls in a drug treatment program." 

Klieman added: 

KLIEMAN: So, the argument of saying, "we're stopping women from getting any kind of drug treatment because they're afraid they'll be arrested," that's a false statement. 

A transcript of the May 1 CBS This Morning segment is below: 

8:07

NORAH O'DONNELL: A groundbreaking new law takes effect in Tennessee this summer. It allows criminal charges against pregnant women who abuse drugs. Tennessee will be the only place where a mother can be prosecuted based on the impact from drugs on her pregnancy. A mother can avoid going to jail if she enrolls in a drug treatment program. CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman is with us. Rikki, the ACLU says this law is dangerous. It could prevent women from getting necessary prenatal care. But you say it's a good law. 

RIKKI KLIEMAN: Well, I certainly understand the ACLU's point of way. By the way, it's the point of view of the drug czars, the point of view of the women's groups who have spoken out against this law. It's the point of view of health care providers. So, the ACLU is not alone there. But on the other side of this, this is what we call a velvet hammer. This is a law that is saying, "Look. We're giving up in Tennessee." We have in Tennessee 921 cases last year of neonatal abstinence syndrome meaning a child born of a pregnant mother who was drug addicted, the child is addicted. And what happens to this child is horrific. So, they're saying, just as you introduced this,  if you go into drug addicted treatment, you're not going to jail. So, the argument of saying, "we're stopping women from getting any kind of drug treatment because they're afraid they'll be arrested," that's a false statement. You have got a situation here where you need accountability. We have babies having babies. We have drug addicts having babies. And what the governor is saying is ten days of in-depth study is to say, "I hear what everyone is telling me. I just don't know what else to do." 

GAYLE KING: But doesn't it raise a question if the state is trying to get involved in what a woman can and cannot do with her body? Doesn't that raise a whole other set of issues that no one wants to get involved with? 

KLIEMAN: Of course. And certainly, if you're someone who supports a women's right to choose, which is the constitutional law of the land since Roe V. Wade, that you say my relationship as a woman with my body about pregnancy is mine and my choice alone. But this just isn't about the pregnancy. If you're a drug addict, you're giving birth to a drug addicted child.  

O'DONNELL: And more states are considering these typing of laws. 

KLIEMAN: Well More states, 17 states, say it's child abuse. And when we look at this spectrum, this has been growing as a drug epidemic. It's really a frightening thing. Best thing we can say about this law is this. Even for those who hate it, it has a sunset provision. It's a two year law. The governor says he's going to study it. He's going to see if, ultimately, families are being separated and it's a draconian law. 

— Scott Whitlock is Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Scott Whitlock on Twitter.