Wisconsin Woman Will Challenge State's 'Cocaine Mom' Law

By Victoria Kim 12/22/14

Sara Ainsworth has filed suit in hopes of overturning a 16-year-old law she feels is unconstitutional.

pregnant woman whiskey.jpg

A Wisconsin woman will challenge the state’s 16-year-old law that allows authorities to detain and force treatment on pregnant women suspected of drug and alcohol abuse.

The lawsuit, which will be filed in U.S. District Court in Madison, is brought by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Carr Center for Reproductive Justice, and the Perkins Cole law firm in Madison, all of whom contend that the “cocaine mom” law is unconstitutional.

“This law allows police, courts and child welfare authorities to seize control of pregnant women who are using or even admit to past use of alcohol or controlled substances,” said Sara Ainsworth, director of legal advocacy for NAPW. “This law authorizes a vast array of coercive, punitive actions against pregnant women who are not actually using any substances at all but have simply been honest with their doctors about past drug use.”

Tammy Loertscher, 30, was jailed in July after she told a physician at Eau Claire’s Mayo Clinic Hospital that she had used marijuana and methamphetamine but stopped when she thought she was pregnant. She wanted a pregnancy test, and help for depression and a thyroid problem. But instead, she was ordered into inpatient drug treatment “even though she had not been using drugs and had voluntarily sought the medical care,” Ainsworth said.

She was jailed because she refused the treatment and was found in contempt of the court. Loertscher remained at Taylor County Jail for 17 days, including time in solitary confinement, for refusing to take a pregnancy test. She was released after she agreed to urinalysis throughout her pregnancy.

The 1998 Wisconsin “fetal protection” law was passed with overwhelming support in the State Assembly and Senate amidst a nationwide scare over so-called “crack babies” and “cocaine moms.” The law allows authorities to detain and force a pregnant woman into treatment if she “habitually lacks self-control” by using drugs or alcohol, creating a “substantial risk” to the physical well-being of the fetus.

According to NAPW, at least 15 pregnant Wisconsin women were detained between 1973 and 2005 for allegedly endangering their fetuses or newborns by using drugs or alcohol, or refusing medical recommendations.

If the county’s accusation of child maltreatment is upheld, Loertscher, a certified nursing assistant, would be banned from working in health care, Ainsworth said. She could even be prohibited from volunteering at her son’s school.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr