Today, the Pennsylvania Legislature gave final approval to a bill that restricts the shackling of pregnant women in jail or prison; it now goes to the governor for his signature. The bill prohibits using restraints on pregnant women when they are being taken to a medical facility, in labor, and after giving birth, absent “extraordinary” circumstances.
As these developments demonstrate, recognition is growing that restraining women in labor and childbirth is both cruel and unnecessary, given that corrections officers or jail deputies are always with women during their hospital stay. The American Medical Association and American Bar Association recently made clear their opposition to the practice of restraining women who are in labor, following the American Public Health Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and a host of women’s rights, human rights, and health organizations.
When it comes time to go on record and cast a vote, almost every legislator has voted in support of these measures. Yet, as is so often the case with social policy in the U.S., shackling women in labor is a problem that has primarily been tackled state by state, which means there is still a long way to go to ensure that all women in custody can give birth safely and with dignity.