Clergy Sign-on Press Release_Fetal Assault Law



1750 Madison Ave., Ste. 600
Memphis, TN 38104



MEMPHIS, TN, February 8, 2016: Clergy, seminarians and other faith leaders address the negative impact of Sen. Reginald Tate’s and Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver’s attempt to extend Tennessee’s Fetal Assault law, which is scheduled to sunset July 1, 2016. SisterReach, Tennessee’s Memphis based Reproductive Justice organization, has organized clergy and lay leaders to sign on to an open letter that calls attention to their belief that the law is ineffective and disproportionately targets women of color and poor women.

The law, formerly SB 1391, went into effect in July 1, 2014. In its original form, the law was scheduled to sunset (end) this summer. However, Sen. Tate and Rep. Weaver have filed an amendment deleting the sunset clause—essentially making the law permanent. One of several problems with the law include that access to treatment is not widely available to the majority of women arrested under this law— poor women and women of color. Since before the law passed in 2014, SisterReach, our state and national partners have continued to cite the small number of treatment centers in the state who will accept pregnant women, pregnant women with children, and the fact that some of those do not accept TennCare. Our position has not changed – the law asks poor pregnant women to do the impossible and punishes them for being unable to do so.

For SisterReach Interfaith Outreach coordinator, Rev. Faye London, the stakes are even higher than that:

“Women and families in TN do not need another stone around their necks. The law has been on the books for two years and there is no evidence that it has done anything but make pregnant women avoid vital prenatal care and lock poor women up who do not have the necessary knowledge and income to navigate the court and social services agencies. It hasn’t created stable homes or communities because, instead of providing viable rehabilitation options, it punishes entire families because of the mother’s illness. Punitive measures have never worked against addiction and people of faith should support healing rather than the further destruction of families.”

 To broadcast this message to a wider audience, SisterReach has composed an open letter to Tate, Weaver and the rest of the Assembly asking that they allow the law to sunset. They have asked people of faith across the state and faith leaders across the country to sign on in support of treatment for mothers suffering with addiction rather than punishment. They hope that, since Tate and Weaver both say that they are people of faith, the voices of other people of faith will help guide them back to what they believe is the right path— love and compassion.

The body of the letter is below. It will be sent with over 100 signatures to Tate, Weaver and to the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, which is scheduled to consider the bill today.

For more information, or to schedule an interview:

Rev. Faye London – (901) 283-7204,

Cherisse Scott – (901) 310-5488,

SisterReach is a non-profit 501c3 grassroots organization focused on empowering, organizing and mobilizing women and girls of color, poor and rural women to lead healthy lives, raise healthy families and provide for their families in safe and sustainable communities free from violence from individuals or the government. SisterReach accomplishes these goals through a three-pronged strategy of education, policy and advocacy. 

Empowered, Invested & Committed to Reproductive Justice

February 8, 2016

TO:   The Honorable Reginald Tate
301 6th Avenue North
Suite 320 War Memorial Bldg.
Nashville, TN 37243

The Honorable Terri Lynn Weaver
301 6th Avenue North
Suite 105 War Memorial Bldg.
Nashville TN 37243

FROM: SisterReach Faith Covenant Partners and Other Concerned People of Faith

RE: The Fetal Assault Law (formerly SB1391)

It has come to our attention that there is an effort underway to remove the sunset clause from the Fetal Assault law (formerly SB 1391), which punishes pregnant women and their families because the mother suffers with drug addiction. We call on you to reconsider as this law has been a destructive force in our communities since its passage in 2014—causing pregnant women to avoid seeking prenatal care and separating families when they need each other most. Rather than producing more stable parents and homes, the law continues to feed the children of largely poor women and women of color to a system that warehouses them, but may never offer anything similar to the crucial parental bonding that is so important for a child’s early development.

Furthermore, the law has shown itself unsuccessful in the two years that it has been on the books. Women who have been criminalized under this law have not been offered sufficient treatment for addiction or any other resources to help them deal with the medical problem with which they are suffering. They have only been stripped of their ability to parent their children and make their own health care decisions. Poor women and women of color and their families suffer most because they are often unfairly targeted for testing and lack the resources to successfully navigate the court systems if they are charged. At the mercy of a system that would rather incarcerate than treat, poor families are more likely to be irreparably torn apart.

We hope that you will consider the well-being of all Tennesseans a top priority, but in case you do not, at least consider the cost to Tennessee. It costs the state significantly more to incarcerate a person as it does to treat the illness of addiction. An individual who has had real, successful treatment for this illness is more likely to maintain sobriety than an individual who has only been incarcerated—reducing the likelihood of recidivism. The cost to Tennesseans for warehousing women as inmates and providing for the children from whom we separate them is far greater than the cost to treat them for their illness.

And finally, we understand that many of you are people of faith who claim to be guided by your faith in your decision making for yourselves, your families and our state. It is in the spirit of the One who calls us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with [our] God” that we beseech you to let this unjust and unkind law sunset and imagine with us a Tennessee where we pursue well-being for all.


Cherisse A. Scott, Founder & CEO SisterReach

 Rev. A. Faye London, Interfaith Outreach Coordinator SisterReach


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