For almost the past two decades, it has been completely legal in the state of Wisconsin for law enforcement to arrest any soon-to-be mother suspected of substance abuse problems.
However, a federal judge recently put a stop to that, ruling the state’s supposed “cocaine mom” law “unconstitutionally void” due to the “vagueness” of its language.
Last week, U.S. District Judge James Peterson overturned the ordinance, which was passed back in the late 1990’s as a way to protect unborn fetuses from drug addict mothers.
The law essentially allowed the state to handle these cases as though they were any other situation involving child abuse. Therefore, if the state believed an expecting mother “habitually [lacked] self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, to the extent that there is a substantial risk that the physical health of the unborn child, and of the child when born, will be seriously affected or endangered,” they could be thrown in jail and required to undergo treatment.
In his verdict, Judge Peterson ruled that the phrases “habitual lack of self control” and “substantial risk to the physical health of an unborn child” did not contain a “precise interpretation,” and did not set a fair standard for enforcement.
He said the law was unconstitutional because it defined “any” drug or alcohol use as being severe.
“This introduces the possibility that the act could be enforced against any drug- or alcohol-dependent woman who was pregnant because her history of substance abuse could be invoked to demonstrate the requisite lack of self-control, regardless of whether she actually used controlled substances while pregnant,” he added.
The “cocaine mom” law was challenged in a case involving Tamara M. Loertscher, who was arrested in 2014 after testing positive for marijuana and methamphetamine during a hospital visit.
According to Courthouse News, Loertscher, who did not believe it was possible for her to get pregnant, was tossed in jail for 18 days after she refused to enter a rehab program. Once she was released from jail, the state then forced her to submit to regular drug screens – all of which came out negative. She gave birth to a healthy baby at the beginning of 2015.
Somewhere around 3,326 cases of unborn child abuse were documented under the “Cocaine Mom” law. The state reportedly took action against nearly 470 women – 152 of them were forced to give up their children to the state immediately after giving birth.