Shackled and pregnant: Wis. case challenges 'fetal protection' law
When Alicia Beltran was 12 weeks pregnant, she took herself to a health clinic about a mile from her home in Jackson, Wis., for a prenatal checkup. But what started as a routine visit ended with Beltran eventually handcuffed and shackled in government custody – and at the center of a first-of-its-kind federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state’s fetal protection law.
On July 2, Beltran, 28, met with a physician’s assistant at West Bend Clinic at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in West Bend, Wis., for her prenatal visit. 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.
According to Beltran, the physician’s assistant recommended she renew her use of Suboxone under a doctor’s supervision. After Beltran declined, she said she was asked to take a drug test, which was negative for all substances except Suboxone.
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.
According to the police report, the officers took Beltran to a hospital, where she underwent a doctor’s exam. Her pregnancy was found to be healthy and normal, her lawyers say. Police then took her to Washington County Jail to await a hearing – hours later, she was led into a courtroom, handcuffed and shackled at the ankles, where a county judge ordered her to spend 90 days in a drug treatment center.
“Alicia had no idea she was giving information to the physician’s assistant that would ultimately be used against her in a court of law,” said Linda Vanden Heuvel of Germantown, Wis., one of Beltran’s attorneys. “She should not have to fear losing her liberty because she was pregnant and she was honest with her doctor.”
At the hearing, her lawyers say, the judge told Beltran that an attorney would not be provided for her at that time but that she could seek counsel for her next hearing in the case. And yet, a lawyer had been appointed to represent her fetus. “It’s wrong that an unborn child gets an attorney but Alicia Beltran, the mother of that unborn child did not,” said Vanden Heuvel.