Alicia Beltran thought she was doing the right thing when she disclosed her past addiction history during a prenatal checkup in July. She was 12 weeks pregnant, and told the physician’s assistant who treated her that she had recently tapered off an anti-addiction medication called Suboxone to help with a prior addiction to Percocet. The physician’s assistant recommended she go back on Suboxone, which Beltran declined, and a urine test found only trace amounts of the anti-addiction medication. Two weeks after the checkup a social worker visited Beltran and insisted she go back on the anti-addiction medication, which Beltran again declined. A couple days later she was taken into custody by county police after which she was detained, shackled, and later ordered by a county judge to serve 90 days in a drug rehabilitation facility.
Beltran has now filed a federal lawsuit that challenges a 1998 Wisconsin law known as the “cocaine mom” law that is at the center of her case, which grants courts authority to impose drug treatment medication and programs on women believed to be habitual users. Studies have shown that criminalizing pregnant women can have negative effects on both mother and child. Verónica Bayetti Flores at Feministing gives a great breakdown of what’s wrong with this kind of fetal rights legislation.
We still hear about legislators and attorneys general suggesting the drug-testing of pregnant women, and criminalizing women more generally for “fetal endangerment.” In fact, earlier this year NAPW released a groundbreaking report on the devastating ways that fetal personhood initiatives, usually passed to restrict abortion access, are being used to criminalize pregnancy. Unsurprisingly, these laws disproportionately affect already marginalized communities: immigrant women, low-income women, and women of color.
There are currently four states that have laws similar “cocaine mom” laws, including Minnesota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.