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Wisconsin, South Dakota Authorize Jailing Pregnant Addicts


May-June 1998

The legislatures of South Dakota and Wisconsin recently passed bills allowing for the detention of pregnant women who abuse drugs or alcohol (Lisa Sink, "`Cocaine Mom' Undergoes Sterilization," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 30, 1998; Gregg Aamot, "South Dakota to Allow Involuntary Commitment of Pregnant Mothers Who Drink," Standard Times (Massachusetts), May 24, 1998; Associated Press, "S. Dakota Will Be Able to Order Detox for Pregnant Drinkers," Virginian-Pilot (Richmond), May 24, 1998, p. A5; Richard P. Jones, "Cocaine Mom, Feticide Bills OK'D," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 2, 1998; Bob Herbert, "Pregnancy and Addiction," New York Times, June 11, 1998, p. A35; Associated Press, "Pregnant drug abusers face detention," Chicago Tribune, June 17, 1998, sec. 1, p. 16).

On May 1, the Wisconsin Senate voted for a measure (AB 463) that allows courts to order expectant mothers to be confined to a treatment program, a physician's office, a hospital, or a relative's home if they abuse illicit drugs or alcohol. The bills sponsors were Senator Joanne Huelsman (R-Waukesha) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Ladwig (R-Mount Pleasant). Governor Tommy Thompson (R) signed the bill into law on June 16 (Sam Martino, "Thompson Signs Law on Pregnant Drug Abusers," Milwaukee Journal Sentienl, June 17, 1998).

A similar law will go into effect in South Dakota (Law #34-20A-70, also Chapter 207 of 1998 session). Governor William Janklow (R) signed SB 178 authorizing the commitment to a treatment program of pregnant women who drink excessive amounts of alcohol or injest nonprescription drugs that could harm the fetus. The law, which takes effect July 1, authorizes courts to place pregnant substance abusers in treatment for almost the entire duration of the pregnancy. The bill's primary sponsor was Senator Barbara Everest (R-Sioux Falls).

Another South Dakota law passed at the same time allows judges to order pregnant alcoholics or drug addicts placed in emergency detox centers for up to two days.

Civil liberties groups protest that these measures infringe on women's rights. Louise Melling, the associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Rights Project said in response to the success of the bills, "You do have to wonder how people are thinking about women and what the government can demand that they do" (Judy Pasternak, "States Crack Down to Shield Fetuses From Drugs," Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1998).

Wisconsin Senator Joanne Huelsman - P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707, Tel: (608) 266-2635, Fax: (608) 267-5172.

South Dakota Senator Barbara Everest - 709 Tomar Rd., Sioux Falls, SD 57105-7053, Tel: (605) 339-0565.

ACLU Reproductive Rights Project, Louise Melling - 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004, Tel: (202) 549-2633, Fax: (212) 549-2652.