In many states, “fetal rights” laws are putting pregnant women in jail

Several states have laws that place the rights of fertilized eggs above women's constitutional rights and safety

Katie McDonough at has written about laws in several states which give rights to fertilized eggs that are superceding the rights of pregnant women. In some cases, women are being jailed to protect the "rights of the unborn."

At 14 weeks pregnant, Alicia Beltran disclosed at a prenatal checkup that she had been addicted to pills the previous year. She had managed to get clean, but wanted her doctor to know that it had been an issue in the past. A urine test later confirmed that Beltran was clean, but her doctor and a social worker insisted that she start an anti-addiction drug.

Beltran refused. Weeks later, county sheriffs came to her home, handcuffed her and brought her to court. Her doctor had accused her of endangering her fetus, and she was ordered to attend a mandatory 78-day stay at a drug treatment facility or risk going to jail.

As Erik Eckholm at the New York Times reports, Beltran didn’t have a lawyer — but her fetus did.

“I didn’t know unborn children had lawyers,” Beltran told the Times.

Beltran lives in Wisconsin, one of four states, along with Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, with laws that empower authorities to confine pregnant women for substance abuse. Other states with less specific laws also criminalize pregnant women for drug use and other conduct considered a threat to the health of the fetus. The Wisconsin law is currently being challenged, with Beltran’s court-ordered confinement being used as evidence against the state.