Alicia Beltran, 28, had done what she thought she needed to do in order to have a healthy first pregnancy. Her only mistake was telling her doctor’s office about her efforts to protect her fetus. Beltran had a bout with addiction to the painkiller Percocet in the previous year. She took steps to get herself off of it, including getting some of an anti-addiction drug, Suboxone, from a friend. With that, she weaned herself off of the Percocet. She finished the process a few days before going to a clinic for a prenatal checkup. In providing her medical history to a physician’s assistant (PA), she helpfully included this information. Drug-testing done on that day confirmed that she had no opiates in her system.
The PA wanted Beltran to go on Suboxone again, but she refused. She hadn’t been able to afford her own prescription in the first place and now felt confident that she was done with drugs. Two weeks after the checkup, a social worker came knocking on her door. She insisted that Beltran take Suboxone or else a court order would force her to. An angry Beltran again refused. Two days later, her house was surrounded by officers from the sheriff’s department. She was arrested and taken in shackles to a court hearing.
Rights of the fetus were protected, but not the mom’s
In court, Beltran was told that she wasn’t being assigned a lawyer, but that one had already been appointed for her fetus. The basis of her arrest was a 1998 state law called the ‘cocaine mom’ act. According to the New York Times, the law allows authorities to forcibly detain pregnant women who use illegal drugs or alcohol ‘to a severe degree’ but won’t accept treatment. The justification is that the women are endangering their fetuses.
Beltran was faced with a choice: treatment or jail. So she chose treatment and was sent to a center two hours away from her family. It took over two months and the intervention of women’s rights groups to win her release. Now, the state of Wisconsin faces a federal lawsuit for depriving Beltran of her constitutional rights. The law’s constitutionality is being argued by National Advocates For Pregnant Women, the Reproductive Justice Clinic of the New York University School of Law, and the lawyer that Beltran’s mother hired, Linda S.Vanden Heuvel.
This case is the first federal lawsuit against ‘Personhood’ of the fetus laws
The case is an historic one. In a press release, the National Advocates For Pregnant Women describe it as the “First Federal Challenge To Arrest Of Pregnant Woman Under ‘Personhood’-Like Measure”. The fact that it IS the first is, in itself, remarkable. Similar situations have happened to hundreds of pregnant women across the country, as documented by the National Advocates For Pregnant Women. The numbers have been on the rise over the last decade.
Seventeen states label substance abuse during pregnancy as child abuse. Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota all allow women to be forcibly held in treatment facilities. Thirty-eight states consider fetuses to be persons in homicide or manslaughter cases, which can be used to accuse women of murder if a fetus dies.
Beltran’s case is far from the exception and is dangerously close to becoming the norm as more states, driven by ‘Right to Life’ groups, seek to exert physical control over women. But the fear of intervention by the state may be keeping women from seeking prenatal care. This creates — give yourself a gold star if you guessed it — potential harm for their fetuses.
The final outcome for Beltran is unknown. She still has to face a court date on the original charges. The most serious possible result is that her parental rights over the unborn child could be severed. This is a woman who took steps on her own to insure a healthy pregnancy, who is still close to the baby’s father, and who would have liked to enjoy her first pregnancy rather than live in fear.
State’s ‘protection’ of the fetus cost Beltran her job
But the worst part of her immediate situation is this: by forcing her into treatment, the judicial system cost Beltran her job. She has finally been freed from the treatment lockdown she was strong-armed into, but now has no means of support for herself and her child.
But you've heard this story before, haven’t you? To the fanatics who are dogged in their pursuit of ‘personhood’ for every unborn fetus, who are determined to chain women to their own punitive, narrow-minded morality, the personhood of an actual living, breathing child simply doesn’t matter. Support for the child? Meh. They did their duty by ensuring it was born. From that point on, Beltran and other women in her situation can be cut loose to deal with the consequences. They’re on their own.