The lawsuit filed recently in federal court in Milwaukee is the first of its kind, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota have laws like Wisconsin's and many other states have laws allowing civil commitment of pregnant women believed to be endangering their fetuses through drug abuse or drinking.
Lawyers for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the Reproductive Justice Clinic at the New York University School of Law argue the laws may convince pregnant women to avoid going to the doctor and are based on faulty information about fetal risk.
Linda S. Vanden Heuvel, a Wisconsin lawyer involved in the suit, represents Alicia Beltran, who was arrested in July after a doctor reported she was at risk of drug abuse and forced into rehab even though testing found only trace amounts of a drug used to help abusers kick the habit in her system. Beltran told the Times she was refused a lawyer at a hearing although a guardian was appointed to represent the fetus.
"This is what happens when laws give officials the authority to treat fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as if they are already completely separate from the pregnant woman," said Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates.
Supporters of the Wisconsin law say it serves a useful purpose.
Bonnie Ladwig, a former Republican state representative, helped write the Wisconsin law, which passed in 1998.
"It's the same as abuse of a child after it's born," she told the Times. "If the mother isn't smart enough not to do drugs, we've got to step in."
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