Getting High For Two

by Dish Staff

Libby Copeland tells the story of Tamara Loertscher, “a woman arrested for drug use even though she says she stopped when she realized she was pregnant, brought to court and twice refused lawyers (even though her fetus was given one), and then sent to jail for 17 days, where she was placed in solitary confinement, denied prenatal care even as she began cramping, and not given her thyroid medication for two days, according to the woman and her lawyers”:

[Y]ou can’t consider Wisconsin’s punitive approach to pregnant women—which purports to protect “unborn children”—without first considering how the state has failed to promote actual family values.

Loertscher, who suffers from hypothyroidism and depression (they are often linked), says she quit her job last February during a depressive episode and then found herself without insurance. Wisconsin is one of the states that turned down the Medicaid expansion tied to Obamacare that might have made it easier for people in her situation to get health insurance. She says she started using meth and marijuana in an attempt to self-medicate for the fatigue and depression she was experiencing, using meth two to three times a week and marijuana less often. She also took an over-the-counter supplement for the thyroid problem.

Commenting on the case, Katie McDonough notes:

Wisconsin is far from the only state to subject pregnant women to a different set of rules and the threat of arbitrary detention. Earlier this year, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to criminalize pregnancy outcomes, though other states have used existing child abuse laws to detain pregnant women.

Between 1973 and 2005, National Advocates for Pregnant Women have documented 413 documented cases in which a woman’s pregnancy was a necessary factor in criminal charges brought against her by the state. There have been an additional 350 cases documented within the last decade. In each of these cases, women have been deprived of due process, the right to legal counsel and other basic constitutional protections because they were pregnant.

Amanda Winkler focuses on Tennessee:

The number one cause of death in Tennessee is drug overdose, surpassing the number of vehicle accidents fatalities in 2013. And pregnant women aren’t immune from addiction: approximately 900 babies were born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in the state last year, a ten-fold increase from a decade ago. NAS is caused when mothers continue their opiate or narcotic drug use through pregnancy; babies can usually be weened off the drug within a few weeks after birth and there are no known long term effects.

However, Tennessee officials have declared NAS an “epidemic” and took action this past July with the implementation of Public Chapter 820. The law makes it possible for a woman to be charged with assault for the use of a narcotic drug while pregnant if her child is born harmed by the drug. An assault conviction is punishable by a fine and anywhere from one to 15 years in prison. So far, around 9 women have been charged under this law. The law has been controversial, with opponents saying it’s counter-productive to put a drug-addicted mother in jail.