Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece about a 28-year-old Wisconsin resident named Alicia Beltran, who found herself handcuffed, arrested, and shipped off to a 78-day drug rehab center she insisted that she didn't need, against her will.
[Alicia Beltran] was 14 weeks pregnant and thought she had done the right thing when, at a prenatal checkup, she described a pill addiction the previous year and said she had ended it on her own — something later verified by a urine test. But now an apparently skeptical doctor and a social worker accused her of endangering her unborn child because she had refused to accept their order to start on an anti-addiction drug.
Ms. Beltran, 28, was taken in shackles before a family court commissioner who, she says, brushed aside her pleas for a lawyer. To her astonishment, the court had already appointed a legal guardian for the fetus.
“I didn’t know unborn children had lawyers,” recalled Ms. Beltran, now six months pregnant, after returning to her home north of Milwaukee from a court-ordered 78-day stay at a drug treatment center. “I said, ‘Where’s my lawyer?’ ”
Under a Wisconsin law known as the “cocaine mom” act when it was adopted in 1998, child-welfare authorities can forcibly confine a pregnant woman who uses illegal drugs or alcohol “to a severe degree,” and who refuses to accept treatment.
Beltran was ordered to complete the rehab program. She lost her job in the process.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is against laws like these because they say threatening arrest doesn't prevent women from abusing substances—if anything, it simply makes women wary of telling medical professionals their full medical history, which doesn't help either the mother or her child. But of course, this law isn't really about helping women, it's about punishing them. “If the mother isn’t smart enough not to do drugs, we’ve got to step in," the law's co-author tells the NYTImes. In other words, women are too stupid to know what's good for them and so they deserve to have their autonomy taken away.
The good news, if such news can be gleaned from a situation like this, is that Beltran is now at the center of a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Wisconsin law on the grounds that it "deprives women of physical liberty, medical privacy, due process and other constitutional rights," the NYTimes reports, and because it's "based on faulty information about the risks to newborns and ultimately does more harm than good... by scaring pregnant women away from prenatal care."
The bad news is that similar laws exist in Minnesota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota—and anti-choice groups are pushing similar laws all across the country because they promote the rights of the fetus at the detriment to women everywhere.