Today a major coalition of health care advocates, human rights organizations, faith leaders and medical practitioners urged legislators to support An Act to Prevent Shackling and Promote Safe Pregnancies for Female Inmates (S.1171), sponsored by Senator Karen Spilka.
“In Massachusetts today, it is not unusual for pregnant women in our jails to be handcuffed to the hospital bed even while in labor,” said Megan Amundson, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “It is inhumane and puts the woman’s and the fetus’s health at risk. Eighteen other states have already passed an anti-shackling law, and the Massachusetts legislature needs to protect women’s health and safety by prohibiting the shackling of pregnant women in labor and childbirth.”
This bill would create uniform laws in Massachusetts county jails and the state prison that would prohibit the shackling of pregnant women during childbirth and post-delivery recuperation unless they present a specific safety or flight risk. It would also establish minimum standards for the treatment and medical care for women in jail who are pregnant to promote safe and healthy pregnancy outcomes, including adequate nutrition, prenatal care, and services for managing high-risk pregnancies.
Today, the Department of Corrections and each county jail has its own policy regarding the health care for pregnant women and shackling. “It is absurd that each prison or jail in the Commonwealth has its own policies on whether, when, and how they shackle pregnant women,” said Gavi Wolfe, Legal Counsel for the ACLU of Massachusetts. “There should be one across-the-board standard: we don’t do it.”
Marianne Bullock, Co-Founder of The Prison Birth Project, has worked in Western Massachusetts with over 100 women who have been incarcerated while pregnant. “Passing this bill is crucial,” she stated. “I witness what it’s like for women to give birth in restraints. It’s horrifying to watch someone you care about be treated like an animal and feel like they are laboring on the demand of the Department of Corrections.”
The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all oppose the use of shackles or restraints on incarcerated women in labor because it impedes the ability of physicians to assess, evaluate, and provide appropriate care to the mother and child.
The advocates urged the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security to provide a favorable report for An Act to Prevent Shackling and Promote Safe Pregnancies for Female Inmates (S.1171).