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Woman challenges state’s fetal protection law (UPDATE)

By DINESH RAMDE
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A pregnant Wisconsin woman has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s fetal protection law after she was confined in a drug treatment center despite what she says is no evidence that she was still using drugs.

Alicia Beltran was held for more than two months under a 1997 law that allows officials to force women to get treatment to protect their unborn children.

Her lawsuit is the first constitutional challenge to the law, according to a statement from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an advocacy group that helped bring the case. Three other states, Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, have similar laws, the group said.

According to court documents, Beltran, 28, of Jackson, Wis., was about three months pregnant in July when she went to a clinic in West Bend for a prenatal checkup. She told a physician’s assistant that she had finished treatment for what she thought was a problem with the painkiller Percocet. The physician’s assistant contacted a social worker, who suggested Beltran continue taking an anti-addiction drug. Beltran refused.

She was arrested days later and eventually taken to a private drug treatment facility in Appleton, where she was held despite a urine test that showed no evidence of drug use. The New York Times reported Beltran was held at the clinic until earlier this month, after a lawsuit was filed on her behalf last month.

The lawsuit, filed in Milwaukee, asks the federal court to declare the law unconstitutional, saying it punishes pregnant women and violates their rights to privacy, due process and freedom from illegal searches and seizures. It names the Casa Clare drug treatment center and several Washington County officials.

Washington County District Attorney Mark Bensen declined to talk about Beltran’s case in detail but said she was never charged with a crime and the fact that she received treatment was positive. Casa Clare Executive Director Jamie Loenish did not immediately return a message Thursday.

Sue Armacost, legislative director of anti-abortion group Wisconsin Right to Life, said she didn’t know enough about the case to comment on it, but her group supported the law when it passed in 1997 and continues to do so.

“We think this law is really a compassionate one,” Armacost said. “You have a mom who was addicted to drugs, habitually taking drugs, for her sake and the sake of the baby, we just thought it was a compassionate thing to do to get the baby into custody and the mom to get real help.”

Beltran’s attorney and a spokeswoman for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women did not immediately return a call for comment.

Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Madison also contributed to this report.

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