A controversial state law is gaining national media attention after the forced custody of a Wisconsin pregnant woman sparked a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court.
Expectant mother Alicia Beltran was taken into custody by state officials during the 14th week of her pregnancy, according reporting from the New York Times. Beltran cited a former addiction to prescription drugs, but claimed she ended it on her own a year before.
However, because of a refusal to take an anti-addiction drug, Beltran was arrested, taken to an inpatient treatment center and received a new court-appointed legal guardian for her fetus, the New York Times story said.
“I didn’t know unborn children had lawyers,” Beltran said in an interview with the New York Times. “I said, ‘Where’s my lawyer?’”
According to current Wisconsin law, state social services or child-welfare authorities can take expectant mothers into custody if the pregnant women is using illegal drugs or alcohol to a severe degree and refuses to accept treatment.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, one of the legislators against the law, said the law does not have anything to do with ensuring a woman’s health or her baby’s health during pregnancy, but are simply “punitive sanctions” against women.
The law defines an unborn child to include fertilized eggs, a point Taylor said she disagreed with.
The law also helps create a movement to establish the fetus as a person, Taylor added.
“You’re not pregnant when you have a fertilized egg,” Taylor said. “You’re pregnant when that fertilized egg is implanted in the wall on the uterus.”
Three other states, Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, have similar laws to Wisconsin’s statute, which give wide-sweeping detainment authority to state officials. Wisconsin’s version was passed by the Legislature and signed into law in 1998 during Gov. Tommy Thompson’s term.
In an interview with the New York Times, Wisconsin Right to Life legislative director Sue Armacost said the law is in place with the intention “to help the woman and her baby.”
The New York Times also reported Wisconsin Right to Life “lobbied hard” for the law’s passage, adding to the popularity of the law among pro-life groups due to its role in helping establish fetal personhood legally in the United States.
Rep. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, also introduced a bill this session to create a constitutional amendment to define a person as “every human being at every stage of development.”
The amendment would also remove the phrase “to be born” from “all people are born equally free and independent.”
With the statute taken to federal court in a lawsuit filed by Beltran and Germantown-based family lawyer Linda Vanden Heuvel, Taylor said she “absolutely” thinks the law is in danger of being struck down by the courts.
Taylor added she tried to prevent future Beltran-like cases during her early days in the Legislature.
“When I was elected to the Legislature, my office recently reached out to Wisconsin Right to Life, because I know they have an interest in making sure that women who are continuing pregnancies can do so in a safe manner — and they refused to work with me,” Taylor said.
Calls to Vanden Heuvel, Wisconsin Right to Life and Wisconsin Family Action were not returned.