Rachel Lowe Case Narrative

Rachael Lowe, a twenty-year-old pregnant woman, voluntarily went to Waukesha Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin to seek help for her addiction to the opiate Oxycontin. Some hospital staff responded by reporting Lowe to state authorities under Wisconsin’s “cocaine mom” law, a statute in the Children’s Code that allows the state to take a pregnant woman into custody if it believes that the “expectant mother habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs.” [1] As a result, Lowe was forcibly taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Racine, more than an hour away from where she lived with her husband and two-year-old son. At St. Luke’s she was held against her will in the psychiatric ward. While there, she received no prenatal care and was prescribed numerous medications, including Xanax. Although a guardian ad litem was appointed for the fetus, Lowe was not appointed counsel until after the first court hearing in her case, approximately twelve days after being taken into custody. At that hearing, no state official could give the court any information about the health of the fetus or the treatment Lowe was receiving. When a subsequent hearing was held to determine the legality of her incarceration, a doctor testified that Lowe’s addiction posed no significant risk to the health of the fetus. At the end of the hearing, the court announced that Lowe would be released from her hospital-based incarceration. Nevertheless, she remained at the hospital in state custody for several days, and under state surveillance and supervision for the remainder of her pregnancy. Lowe was required to provide urine samples and to cooperate with law enforcement and health professionals. As a result of the intervention, Lowe’s husband had to take a leave of absence from his job, and Lowe was fired from hers. [2]

1. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 48.193 (West 2009).
2. State v. Lowe (Wisc. Cir. Ct. Racine County June 15, 2005) (Constantine, J.).