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Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona signed into law a measure to limit the shackling of pregnant women, bringing the number of states with such laws on the books to 15.

The new law applies to state and county prisons and jails, and prohibits shackling during transportation to the hospital to give birth as well as during labor, delivery, and post-partum recovery.

The Legislature’s action follows a much-publicized lawsuit brought by a woman against Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County for shackling her to the hospital bed before and immediately after she gave birth by Cesarean surgery, as well as an obstetrician’s testimony that she had witnessed the practice first-hand on more than one occasion.

Florida could soon become the 16th state to curtail this practice: With only one “no” vote, the Florida Legislature passed a bill to establish uniform rules against shackling women during labor, delivery, and post-partum recovery across all prisons, jails, and detention facilities in the state.

As bill sponsor Representative Betty Reed says, “Women can now feel safer while giving birth no matter their circumstance.” Once the Legislature formally presents the bill to Governor Rick Scott, he will have 15 days to take action.

In Massachusetts, by contrast, a bill to ban shackling and establish other minimum standards of care for pregnant women in custody has been stuck in committee for years, and a bill to strengthen California’s law against shackling has passed the Legislature unanimously twice, only to be vetoed by two different governors of different political parties.

While the goal of ending the use of shackles on pregnant women has brought together currently and formerly imprisoned women, reproductive justice advocates, medical providers, human rights experts, and other stakeholders, the uneven progress shows that much work remains to be done.

Especially important is that any bill apply to all institutions of confinement, including prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities; include provisions on monitoring and oversight so that the Legislature and the public can know whether the law is being followed; and prohibit especially dangerous types of restraints, such as leg shackles and waist chains, throughout pregnancy.

To quote Rep. Betty Reed of Florida again, “It is time we treat all pregnant women in society with greater respect and humility.”


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