In 2013, a group of Tennessee legislators made it a crime for a pregnant woman to transmit narcotics to a fetus. The law’s supporters offered many of the traditional justifications for criminal law, but they also leaned heavily on a less familiar argument: that creating this crime would, in effect, create care. Indeed, they argued that criminalizing this behavior was a logical response to Tennessee’s opiate epidemic and healthcare crisis, as it would create incentives for judges to draw more treatment resources into court. However, to the extent that the women prosecuted under this law received any care from our legal and social welfare systems, that care was corrupted by its location within or near punishment systems.
Supporting families and ending poverty requires universalism. But, given the racialized nature of poverty, universalism is not enough.