The Detention and Forced Medical Treatment of Pregnant Women: A Human Rights Perspective

Cynthia Soohoo and Risa E. Kaufman
Publication Date: 
March 5, 2018

Just ahead of a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Loertscher v. Anderson, a case challenging a Wisconsin statute that allows the state to detain a pregnant woman purportedly to protect her “unborn child” from the woman’s potential future use of alcohol or controlled substances, Cynthia Soohoo, Professor of Law at City University of New York Law School, and Risa E. Kaufman, Director of U.S. Human Rights at Center for Reproductive Rights, explain in a new ACS Issue Brief why this statute and others like it should be held unconstitutional. In the Issue Brief, Soohoo and Kaufman make the case that laws that authorize the detention and forced medical treatment of pregnant women suspected of drug or alcohol abuse violate human rights standards and are a mistaken legal response to address individual and public health issues. To reach this conclusion, Soohoo and Kaufman explore the relevance of international law to these statutes and draw on international human rights treaties, recommendations of international human rights experts, and the jurisprudence of regional human rights bodies to detail the ways in which the Wisconsin statute and similar schemes violate international prohibitions on arbitrary detention, forced medical treatment, gender discrimination, and the rights to confidentiality of medical records.