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‘Cocaine Mom’ Law Found Unconstitutional By Federal Judge

Law Allows State To Incarcerate Pregnant Women Who Test Positive For Drugs, Alcohol

Joe Gratz (CC)

A law allowing the state to jail pregnant women suspected of drug abuse has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge James Peterson ruled Wisconsin’s 19-year-old “cocaine mom” law was “void for vagueness.”

The case was brought by Tamara M. Loertscher who was pregnant in 2014 and jailed in Taylor County after testing positive for drugs and refusing court ordered inpatient treatment.

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But Dr. Kathy Hartke, chair of the Wisconsin section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the law ignores that addiction is a medical issue not a moral failing.

“We don’t lock women up if they’re diabetic and they’re not following their treatment plan or if someone is smoking a pack a day, which causes more fetal deaths than some of these other drugs that could be used,” Hartke said.

Wisconsin Department of Justice spokesman Johnny Koremenos declined to comment on Peterson’s decision other than to say it was under review.

The law, enacted in 1998, was aimed at protecting fetuses if a mother habitually used drugs or alcohol. The law had the opposite affect for the unborn, pregnant women with drug or alcohol addiction often chose to forego prenatal care entirely, said Dr. Cresta Jones, associate professor of maternal fetal medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“They’re afraid if they disclose to us the challenges that they’re having, that they may have some sort of punishment rather than us partnering with them to get them the care that they need,” Jones said.

While Peterson ruled in favor of Loertscher by placing a statewide injunction on the “cocaine mom” law, he denied her claim for monetary damages from Taylor County.

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