Pregnant Woman Alicia Beltran Fights Wisconsin's 'Fetal Protection' Law

| by Courtney Nunes

When a pregnant woman in Jackson, Wis., went into a health clinic for a prenatal checkup, she did not expect to end up in government custody.

Alicia Beltran, 28, was 14 weeks pregnant when she met with a physician’s assistant for a routine visit, according to the New York Times. When the assistant questioned Beltran on her medical history, Beltran admitted to previous struggles with the painkiller Percocet the previous year. Beltran added that she had ended the addiction on her own, and a urine test confirmed that her system was clear of the opiate.

Beltran also admitted to taking Suboxone, a drug used to treat a Percocet addiction. She admitted that she had been unable to afford her own prescription, so she had obtained the drug from a friend. After gradually reducing her doses, Beltran eventually weaned herself off of the drug altogether.

Beltran said she had taken her last dose of Suboxone three days before the prenatal visit.

However, the physician’s assistant was skeptical.

The assistant suggested Beltran get a prescription to Suboxone to ease the withdrawal symptoms and protect the fetus. Beltran declined.

“But I told her I’d already tapered off and quit,” she said.

After refusing the prescription, Beltran said she was asked to provide a urine test. The sample was negative of all opiates, and only contained small traces of Suboxone, reports NBC News.

Two weeks after her checkup, a social worker appeared on Beltran’s doorstep.

According to the Times, the social worker ordered Beltran to continue Suboxone treatment or face a court order. Again, Beltran refused.

“I told her I’m off this stuff and I don’t want to go back on it,” she said.

Two days later, police officers arrived at her home. According to NBC News, Beltran was arrested, handcuffed and taken to a hospital where a doctor’s exam found her pregnancy to be healthy and normal.

Beltran was then taken to court, where she faced a case given by the statement of Dr. Angela Breckenridge. Beltran noted that Breckenridge had never personally met or examined her.

“She exhibits lack of self-control and refuses the treatment we have offered her,” wrote Dr. Breckenridge, in a letter dated July 16. The doctor recommended “a mandatory inpatient drug treatment program or incarceration.”

“The child’s life depends on action in this case,” Breckenridge added.

Beltran was eventually sentenced to 90 days in a drug treatment facility, where she remained until she was sent home on Oct. 4.

According to her attorneys, Beltran was unaware that her personal medical information could be used against her.

“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, 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.”

According to NBC News, Beltran was initially denied an attorney but was told she could “seek counsel” for her next hearing.

“It’s wrong that an unborn child gets an attorney but Alicia Beltran, the mother of that unborn child did not,” said Vanden Heuvel.

According to a 1997 Wisconsin law, courts are granted authority over the fetus of pregnant women who “habitually lack self-control” due to a drug and alcohol abuse such that the unborn child is at  “substantial risk.”

Beltran’s lawyers add that she was not under the influence of any controlled substances at the time of her arrest.

Sources: New York TimesNBC NewsWisconsin State Legislature