'Drug moms' face custody

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A NEW law in Wisconsin allows the state to take into custody pregnant women who abuse alcohol or drugs.

The so-called "cocaine mom" law is the latest shot in the battle between advocates of the rights of women and foetuses. Opponents say that it subjugates the rights of women, and is part of an attempt to outlaw abortion altogether. Proponents say that it is simply a matter of avoiding damage to unborn children.

Tommy Thompson, the Republican Governor of Wisconsin, has turned the state into something of a laboratory for conservative social policy, pioneering new welfare-to-work approaches. The latest measure empowers doctors, lawyers, and other professionals to report women to the police if they exhibit a serious and habitual "lack of control" with alcohol or drugs. The women can then be taken to a hospital or drug treatment centre, to be confined if necessary.

Advocates of women's rights say the Bill could be used against women who smoke, and that it is mistaken to extend child-protection laws to foetuses.

The Bill defines "unborn child" as a human being from the time of fertilisation to the time of birth. That potentially opens the door to criminalising abortion, critics say.