In this first part of RH Reality Check‘s Women, Incarcerated series, we focus on one woman’s prison time—which involved a high-risk pregnancy, forced induced labor, and shackling—to illustrate the problems that thousands of women face behind bars.
The report details numerous violations of the state’s anti-shackling law, severely limited access to birth control, lack of trauma-informed clinical care, and a routine denial of basic hygiene items like sanitary napkins and toilet paper.
As ludicrous as Alabama’s law is, having lawyers for fetuses is not new—and they are not just appointed to try to stop girls from having abortions. In fact, they have been used for decades in state and judicial efforts to strip pregnant women of their civil and human rights.
Maya Schenwar’s book uses her family’s personal experiences with incarceration as a framing device for more general statistics about how the legal system works, addressing the racism, classism, heterosexism, and misogyny at the heart of law-and-order policies.
Dr. Dorothy Roberts is right: Incarceration of women “inflicts incalculable damage to communities …. [transferring] racial disadvantage to the next generation.”
For at least several years, Alameda County sheriffs and medical personnel have routinely conducted pregnancy tests on thousands of prisoners, old and young, fertile and sterile, willing or not. It’s a practice that isn’t shared by any other jails in California. No one can say for exactly how long Alameda County jails have been forcing arrested women to take pregnancy tests, and no one can really explain why.
The stories of women who participated in focus groups led by SisterSong, included in a new report, convey the gross under-education and discriminatory treatment of Black women living in the South, in particular, where sexual and reproductive health education is nonexistent and stigma is rampant.
Among other things, the new law requires that inmates have access to mental health assessments and treatment during pregnancy and postpartum, and mandates that correctional facilities offer pregnancy and STD tests to inmates.
The Aderholt Amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act bans the use of Immigration and Customs Enforcement funds to pay for abortion care for detained women, potentially further limiting immigrant women’s access to care.
An investigation reveals that pregnant women incarcerated in Pennsylvania are routinely
subjected to wearing leg shackles and handcuffs, including while laboring and giving birth, despite medical dangers and current law that says the practice is illegal in most circumstances.