U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Criticizes Detention of Pregnant Women in the U.S.

In July 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a report criticizing the detention of pregnant women in the United States and highlighting the harsh Wisconsin law NAPW and our allies have been working to defeat. Wisconsin Act 292, which a federal court found unconstitutional, targets pregnant women for state intervention and allows forced detention of pregnant women alleged to have used alcohol or controlled substances.

In strong language, the U.N. working group concluded that Wisconsin's law "lacks due process and serves as a deterrent for other women who require health care . . . This form of deprivation of liberty is gendered and discriminatory in its reach and application, as pregnancy, combined with the presumption of drug use is the determining factor for involuntary treatment." During the working group's country visit to the U.S. in 2016, they had met with NAPW's client Tamara Loertscher, who is serving as the plaintiff challenging Wisconsin's law in federal court, and discussed her horrific experience in Wisconsin under Act 292.

The working group reported on "the deprivation of liberty in the context of immigration, the criminal justice system, on health-related grounds and the situation at Guantanamo Bay," and chose to highlight the detention of pregnant women. The report recommends that the U.S. "should maximize the availability of health care for pregnant women . . . so that responses to substance use in pregnancy prioritize human rights and public health" and ensure that treatment is " voluntary and respects due process guarantees."

The working group's report along with conclusions and recommendations was submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council at its September session. The United Nations Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body made up of 47 nations to promote and protect human rights around the world.

Read the full report, "Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on its visit to the United States of America," here.