Wisconsin has what’s often referred to as the “cocaine mom” statute, which is a law meant to protect developing fetuses by forcing pregnant women who admit to drug use into treatment programs. As part of this law, child-welfare officials can forcibly confine any pregnant woman if she uses illegal drugs, or if she consumes alcohol to a “severe degree,” provided that the woman refuses to participate in the ordered treatment plan, according to the New York Times. Now, for the second time in Wisconsin history, a pregnant woman is fighting back against the Wisconsin state law.
Tamara Loertscher, 30, spent two-and-a-half weeks in the Taylor County jail after a judge found her in contempt. Loertscher refused to move into a residential treatment center after it was discovered that she used methamphetamine and marijuana before she knew she was pregnant. She refused to move into the residential treatment, because she stopped using drugs when she first suspected that she might be pregnant, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
“In late July she stopped using any drugs because she thought she might be pregnant. On Aug. 1, she sought help with Taylor County social services, which referred her to the emergency room at Eau Claire Mayo Clinic. At the clinic, a urine test showed Loertscher was pregnant, and also revealed her past drug use. Another test confirmed she had a severe thyroid condition. Medical officials shared the findings with the county social services personnel, who subsequently went to court and had a guardian ad litem appointed for Loertscher’s 14-week-old fetus.”
“The treatment they wanted me to go through basically sounded like incarceration. I wasn’t going to be allowed to leave,” Loertscher said, adding that the court also did not state how long her forced treatment would have lasted.
While in jail, Tamara spent three days in solitary confinement after she refused to provide a urine sample for an additional pregnancy test.
“I was put in solitary confinement and threatened to be tased because I wouldn’t take a pregnancy test.”
“When I was incarcerated, they immediately started harassing me. They all just thought I was this horrible person,” Leotscher explained. When the pregnant woman began cramping, she says she was denied adequate prenatal care. She was forced to miss two days of thyroid medicine while pregnant in jail as well, according to Slate Magazine.
During her time in jail, she missed prenatal appointments. She claims that the staff at the jail told her that she shouldn’t have “gotten herself in the position” to miss her prenatal appointments, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
A public defender got her released from jail, but she was required to submit to drug and alcohol testing for the remainder of the time she was pregnant. All tests have come back negative since she was released, according to her lawyer, Freya Bowen. Despite the negative drug tests, according to Slate, Wisconsin officials informed her that, because of the refusal to comply with the “cocaine mom” law, Wisconsin considers her a child abuser. Loertscher, a certified nurse’s aide, will never work in her field again if the charges stick.
The pregnant Wisconsin woman is due to deliver her baby this month, but has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.
She is being assisted by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. The federal lawsuit names Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, and Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson as defendants. The complaint specified her substance use during and before her pregnancy.
“When Ms. Loertscher became unemployed in February of 2014, she was unable to pay for her thyroid medication and related blood testing. She attempted to apply for BadgerCare, Wisconsin’s version of Medicaid, but was told by officials that there was a waiting list of more than a year to process any new applications. She was thus without any medical treatment for her hypothyroidism beginning in February 2014.
“Without treatment for her thyroid condition, Ms. Loertscher sank into a severe depression with accompanying fatigue and intrusive thoughts.
“Ms. Loertscher also began to experience severe head and neck pain. Simultaneously, she suffered from increasing mental confusion and disorientation.
“During this time period, Ms. Loertscher began to use methamphetamine. Ms. Loertscher had no history of drug dependency or addiction. But methamphetamine, a stimulant, helped her to get out of bed in the morning and manage the symptoms of her untreated hypothyroidism and head and neck pain.
“Ms. Loertscher smoked marijuana during this time period as well, but very intermittently—fewer than 10 times in the year prior to July of 2014.
“Ms. Loertscher used no other illegal drugs at this time, and consumed almost no alcohol. The sum total of her alcohol consumption was one half glass of wine in the month of July, 2014.”
“From our perspective, the entire proceeding was a violation of constitutional rights from start to finish,” Bowen said.
The lawsuit specifically asks the court to amend multiple sections of the “cocaine mom” law, known legally as the 1997 Wisconsin Act 292, and to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction on that law. It also requests a monetary award only to cover reasonable attorney fees and court costs.
Do you think Wisconsin’s “cocaine mom” law and the authorities in the case of this particular pregnant woman were in violation of her constitutional rights?