January 22, 2020, marks 47 years since the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade recognized that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides a “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant person’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
As we continue to fight for increased access to abortion, we must reflect on the core freedoms that Roe protects, and we must recognize that not all pregnant people are afforded the same access to those freedoms. We celebrate Roe because it recognized the right to privacy, individual liberty, and bodily autonomy; however, these rights are not always afforded for pregnant people in marginalized communities, such as people who use drugs, under laws like Wisconsin’s Unborn Child Protection Act (Act 292).
Act 292 is a law that allows the state of Wisconsin to strip pregnant people of their bodily autonomy and individual liberty, simply on the basis of being pregnant. It allows the state to take certain pregnant people into custody, assign a lawyer for the embryo or fetus but no lawyer for the pregnant person including at important early stages of the proceeding, and send the person to drug treatment, psychiatric hospitals, or even jail – regardless of whether drug treatment is really needed. Continued enforcement of Act 292 may cause pregnant people to avoid drug treatment or even prenatal care in fear of being referred for investigation by the state under Act 292, and may also prevent open and honest conversations between patients and their healthcare providers.
Put simply, Act 292 compromises the right to privacy. This regressive law promotes a punitive response by the state rather than treating drug use as a public health issue.
So much of what we celebrate in Roe is the right to personal liberty and privacy, and Wisconsin’s Act 292 restricts those rights by mandating an investigative response by the state to private dialogue between healthcare providers and patients. Pregnant people should be able to have open and honest conversations with their doctors without fear of investigation by state authorities through Act 292.
In celebrating the right to privacy recognized in Roe v. Wade, we must recommit to ending enforcement of regressive laws like Wisconsin’s Act 292.