Woman Loses Rights but Her Fetus Gets a Lawyer
Wisconsinite Alicia Beltran is living a pregnant woman’s nightmare.
She went into a health clinic for prenatal checkup during her first trimester. After being honest with a physician assistant during her visit, the police came knocking.
When asked to detail her medical history, Beltran admitted a past struggle with the painkiller Percocet. But that was all behind her, Beltran said: She had been taking Suboxone, a drug used to treat Percocet dependency. Lacking health insurance and unable to afford the medication, Beltran had used an acquaintance’s prescription and self-administered the drug in decreasing doses. She had taken her last dose a few days before her prenatal visit. . . . Two weeks later, a social worker visited Beltran at home and told her that she needed to continue Suboxone treatment under the care of a physician, said Beltran, who again declined. Two days later, Beltran found police officers at her home, who arrested and handcuffed her.
At her court hearing, she was handcuffed and shackled at the ankles. She did not get a lawyer—but her fetus did.
“It’s wrong that an unborn child gets an attorney but Alicia Beltran, the mother of that unborn child did not,” Linda Vanden Heuvel, Beltran’s attorney, told NBC.
Now, Beltran has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state’s fetal protection law.
Criminal prosecutions of pregnant women have been on the rise in recent years in cases of suspected substance abuse, especially as some states adopt laws granting rights, or “personhood,” to fetuses, reports NBC.
Substance abuse should be treated as a medical issue—not a criminal issue, especially when the person is pregnant. Going after pregnant women will just curb prenatal visits, the very thing crucial to a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.
Beltran has been released from the substance abuse facility—located two hours away from her family—where she was forced to reside for two months. And she lost her job for being away so long.
Beltran’s case shows how hollow the arguments are for fetal personhood laws. A person should not lose their constitutional rights just because she gets pregnant.
The court date for Beltran’s lawsuit has not yet been determined. Hopefully the federal courts will overturn this law.
Photo: Flickr user Tatiana Vdb, creative commons licensed.
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