Taylor: "What does this say to women?"
The case of a pregnant Wisconsin woman who was forced into a drug rehabilitation center under the state's "fetal protection" law is prompting state Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) to seek changes to the statute.
"Now we have an example of how it's so broad," says Taylor. "I am looking at the statute, and it needs to be changed."
According to a New York Times story and numerous other national media reports, Alicia Beltran was 14 weeks pregnant when she sought prenatal care at St. Joseph's Hospital in Milwaukee. During the visit she told health care providers that she had been addicted to pills the previous year but had kicked the habit on her own. Despite a urine test that corroborated her claim, a doctor and social worker ordered her to take an anti-addiction drug.
When Beltran refused she was taken in shackles to court. She did not have a lawyer, but the court had already appointed a legal guardian for her fetus. Under the 1998 Wisconsin law, also known as the "cocaine mom" act, pregnant women can be forcibly confined if they use illegal drugs or alcohol "to a severe degree" and refuse treatment.
Beltran was released from confinement Oct. 4 and has now filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Wisconsin law. She is being represented by, among others, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. The group says it is the first federal challenge to this kind of fetal protection law, which has been championed by anti-abortion forces in states across the country.
Taylor says that there was no evidence Beltran was using drugs and that she went in good faith to seek prenatal care. She says this type of overreach sends a bad message to other women who might have struggled with substance abuse but are now pregnant and doing the right thing in seeking medical care.
"What does this say to women?" asks Taylor. "It says 'don't tell your doctor because they might come to your house.'"
While Taylor is determined to draft changes to the law, they are unlikely to pass while Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and Scott Walker is governor. Republican lawmakers, in fact, have tried to make fetal protections stronger in recent years. Andre Jacque (R-Green Bay), for instance, has sponsored a personhood bill that would establish a "right to life" in the state constitution and define a fetus as a person.