A federal civil rights lawsuit is being filed on behalf of a Wisconsin woman who was jailed after allegedly using methamphetamines while 14 weeks pregnant.

Tamara Loertscher, 30, was jailed after seeking prenatal care at a Mayo Clinic branch in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Loertscher was seeking treatment for a serious thyroid condition and depression, and disclosed to doctors that she’d been using drugs before she knew she was pregnant. Hospital workers then had Loertscher jailed.

“This was my first pregnancy, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Loerstcher told reporters. “I was having lots of cramping and a lot of stress from everything and they [jail officials] wouldn’t allow me to see the doctor.” 

Wisconsin law grants authorities the power to involuntarily detain and confine a pregnant woman for substance use if she “habitually lacks self-control” and her substance use poses a “substantial risk” to the health of an egg, embryo, or fetus. This policy, Wisconsin Act 292, is also referred to as the “cocaine mom law.”

Wisconsin is just one of several states that effectively suspend the civil rights of pregnant women in the name of protecting against fetal harm. Tennessee was the most recent state to enact such a law, doing so earlier in 2014. Wisconsin’s law remains the most broad, and no court has yet ruled on its constitutionality.

Media Resources: RH Reality Check, 12/12/14, 4/29/14; The Guardian, 12/12/14; Wisconsin State Legislature, 6/30/98; Feminist Majority Foundation, 11/5/14.


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