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A new case to be heard at the United States District Court in Milwaukee could have long-term legal implications for laws that establish the “personhood” of an unborn child, and seeks to further protect the rights of pregnant mothers. Back in July, a 14-week pregnant woman named Alicia Beltran had a scheduled prenatal checkup, and admitted to her doctor that in the past, she struggled with an addiction to prescription pain pills. Though she told her doctor she had kicked the habit on her own (and refused to go back on an anti-addiction drug because of the price, and a urine test confirmed she was drug-free), she was soon taken into custody by police and forced to spend the next three months in a treatment facility, causing her to lose her job. During that time, the court had even appointed another legal guardian over her unborn fetus.

Now Beltran (who has been recently released from the treatment center, and is six months pregnant), is bringing a lawsuit that will challenge the so-called “cocaine mom” act that allows authorities to use confinement and the threat of criminal prosecution to force pregnant women into treatment programs. Bonnie Ladwig, a retired Wisconsin legislator who helped first write the law, told The New York Times that the act’s intent is to protect unborn children from harm inflicted by the consumption of drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. “It’s the same as abuse of a child after it’s born. If the mother isn’t smart enough not to do drugs, we’ve got to step in.” The NYT has a pretty detailed overview of the events that let to Beltran’s confinement, including a confrontation with a child-protective official and an early admission that she had taken a Vicodin pill before she knew she was pregnant. The Beltran case is nuanced, but could have a significant impact on laws that set out to protect the rights of an unborn child—and the right’s an expectant mother … Discuss

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