By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A pregnant Wisconsin woman said Thursday she plans to file a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s fetal protection law after she was jailed for refusing treatment for drugs.
The 1997 law allows officials to force pregnant women who are abusing drugs into treatment. Medford resident Tamara Loertscher, 30, intends to allege the statues violate a host of civil rights, including the right to due process and the right to control one’s own body, said Sara Ainsworth, legal director for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which is helping Loertscher prepare the lawsuit.
Loertscher and Ainsworth told reporters during a conference call that Loertscher was 14 weeks pregnant when she visited the Eau Claire Mayo Clinic to seek treatment for hypothyroidism and depression in early August. Tests revealed she had used methamphetamine and marijuana. She said she had used the drugs to self-medicate after she lost her job and couldn’t afford medicine for her hypothyroidism.
Ainsworth said Loertscher refused to submit to treatment under the law and had to go through a contempt hearing. Loertscher didn’t have an attorney for the proceeding but her fetus was assigned one, Ainsworth said.
Loertscher was sentenced to serve 30 days in the Taylor County jail, though a public defender got her released after 17 days through a deal that calls for her to submit to drug tests, Ainsworth said.
Taylor County officials sent a letter to Loertscher accusing her of child maltreatment, Ainsworth said, a finding that could prevent her from working in the medical field, schools and day cares.
NAPW is appealing that finding and plans to file the federal lawsuit before the end of the year, Ainsworth said. She declined to elaborate.
A DCF spokesman declined comment. A voicemail left at the Taylor County Human Services Department wasn’t immediately returned.
NAPW filed a similar lawsuit last year challenging the fetal protection law on behalf of Alicia Beltran of Jackson, Wisconsin. Beltran said she was pregnant during the summer of 2013 and had weaned herself off painkillers but was still confined to a drug treatment center for two months.
U.S. District Judge Charles N. Clevert Jr. dismissed the case this past September, ruling Beltran’s allegations were moot since she was released from treatment.
Ainsworth said she doesn’t expect that will be an issue for Loertscher since she’s still subject to drug tests.
Minnesota, South Dakota and Oklahoma have similar fetal protection laws, according to NAPW.