On Thursday, August 9, Reproaction took direct action in local emergency room waiting rooms at hospitals located in Milwaukee County. The goal of this action was to increase awareness of Wisconsin’s Act 292, which allows the state to accuse certain pregnant women of “unborn child abuse.” If substance use is suspected, Wisconsin can take these women into custody, appoint a lawyer for her embryo or fetus, and lock them in a drug treatment program, mental hospital, or jail – whether or not drug treatment is really needed. Although a federal court ruled the law unconstitutional, it remains in effect because Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel have fought to keep the law in place.
Pregnant people who visit hospital emergency rooms are especially vulnerable to enforcement of Act 292. That’s what happened to Tammy Loertscher in 2014; Tammy was referred to the emergency room in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for hypothyroidism, depression, and a suspected pregnancy. After admitting past drug use to hospital staff, medical officials shared Tammy’s confidential information with the county’s social services personnel. Tammy was then taken to court against her will, a lawyer was assigned to represent her fetus, and she was forced to stay in jail overnight after refusing to go to an unnecessary drug treatment program. Ten days after her initial release, Tammy was taken into custody again for “not following earlier orders”.
This incident is far from isolated – hundreds of Wisconsinites have been accused of “unborn child abuse” under Act 292, and 61 cases were referred to the state in Milwaukee County in 2016. Overall, Milwaukee County had the highest rate of cases referred to the state under Act 292, and that’s why Reproaction chose to take direct action here.
Through the direct action, I distributed approximately 50 half-sheet fliers with information on Act 292 in four different emergency room waiting rooms around Milwaukee. Each stack of 10 to 15 fliers were placed in a visible location, such as on end tables or close to the front desk, so they would grab incoming patients’ attention right away. At each hospital, I entered the waiting room, set up the fliers, and snapped a quick photo to document the action. Hospital staff watched as I set up the fliers and hospital patients seemed interested as well, but no one approached me. Getting information to vulnerable women is crucial to the #WIFights292 campaign, and we’ll be organizing similar direct actions in the future.
All people who experience pregnancy, including pregnant women in Wisconsin, deserve access to appropriate, confidential health care without fear of losing their rights to medical decision-making, privacy, and liberty. Act 292 threatens the reproductive freedom of pregnant women and threatens the safety and well-being of all Wisconsinites. Act 292 is dangerous for all pregnant people, and we’re holding those in power accountable.