Students and faculty in the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic (HRGJ) recently celebrated a victory—the acceptance of a majority of their recommendations regarding the detention of pregnant women suspected of drug use in the United States by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The HRGJ team advocated on behalf of their client Tammy Loertscher and other pregnant women in similar situations. Loertscher was jailed in 2014 in Wisconsin after she disclosed to a doctor that she self-medicated a medical condition with methamphetamine and marijuana before she knew she was pregnant. This disclosure led to her 18-day incarceration. Under Wisconsin law, a woman can be detained if she uses drugs while pregnant. Loertscher gained national attention when she filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Madison, Wisconsin, challenging the constitutionality of this law.
Third-year students Steph Freeman, Natalie Gao, Katy Joseph, and Megan Lynch are on the clinic team that worked on this advocacy project. They were supervised by HRGJ director, Prof. Cindy Soohoo with assistance from Farrah Diaz-Tello (‘09), formerly with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Diaz-Tello was the attorney who argued Loertscher’s case before the Wisconsin court. Each student researched different areas that eventually went into a memorandum for the United Nations’ Working Group.
Professor Soohoo, Diaz-Tello, student advocates and Loertscher were able to meet with the UN Working Group in Washington, DC. Steph Freeman described this experience as “the single most moving and inspirational professional experience [she] had thus far [in law school].”
After returning from Washington, the group put together a list of recommendations for the UN Working Group. In October, the Working Group released their preliminary report that contained many of the clinic’s recommendations. The final report from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is set for release in September 2017.
The HRGJ clinic will continue advocacy on this issue and will host a presentation on their work on November 22.