Rachel Roth

    New Paper Series Explores Reproductive Justice Issues, Including What Happens to Pregnant Women in Prison

    Posted August 17th, 2012 by

    The Center for Women Policy Studies has published a series of papers called Reproductive Laws for the 21st Century. My contribution is called “She Doesn’t Deserve to be Treated Like This”: Prisons as Sites of Reproductive Injustice, and I’m excited to share it with the MomsRising community.

    The quotation in the title comes from a Pennsylvania grandmother whose 22 year-old granddaughter was left to give birth all alone, locked in a prison cell. No matter how she tried to convince the prison staff that she needed to go to a hospital, they wouldn’t listen.

    This is just one of many chilling stories about the inhumane treatment of pregnant women behind prison walls. The United States imprisons more people than any other country, and this pattern is especially pronounced when it comes to women: fully one-third of all the women and girls in prison worldwide are right here in the U.S.

    The prison system, and the “war on drugs” and sentencing policies that have fed its expansion over the past few decades, are fitting subjects for a reproductive justice analysis for many reasons: most imprisoned women are in their reproductive years, mothers of young children, or both; imprisoned women are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately from urban communities of color; and spending on prison outstrips spending on public education in many states, upending reproductive justice priorities.

    Although some elected officials have begun to recognize the untenable costs of mass imprisonment, we still have a long way to go. Exposing the violations of women’s reproductive rights and health brings an important problem to light and also provides a specific entry point into the discussion about the social and fiscal costs of our current policy.

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    May 4, 2013 at 12:42 am by Shiva

    Pregnancy is the most important part in any women’s life. Pregnant women where they feel elated of crossing to most privileged tag as mother. Take good care of during pregnancy.


    August 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm by Vikki

    Thanks for all the work you do to raise awareness about reproductive justice (or injustice) in women’s prisons. WORTH (Women on the Rise Telling HerStory), an organization of currently and formerly incarcerated women based in NYC, launched its Birthing Behind Bars campaign to address the intersections of reproductive justice and incarceration nationwide. WORTH was instrumental in getting New York State to pass its 2009 legislation banning the shackling of incarcerated women while they are in labor and delivery. The Birthing Behind Bars campaign takes the fight for reproductive justice inside women’s prisons nationwide and partners with organizations and advocates doing work in their respective states.

    We’re currently asking people to sign a pledge promising to join the fight to end shackling and/or other reproductive injustices in prisons when the fight comes to their area. If you’d like to sign on or learn more, go to: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6220/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=10425

    Thanks again for all that you do around this issue.


    Rachel Roth Reply:

    Vikki, thanks for sharing this information! While not every state has an organization like WORTH, the courage of women to speak out about shackling has been critical to getting laws passed around the country. Women who go public with their stories of being shackled during labor and childbirth have inspired policymakers to take action.


    Anonymous Reply:

    In addition to signing the pledge, people can send a letter to the Governor of California encouraging him to sign a new bill strengthening the law against shackling of pregnant women in that state. Sign here by Sept. 15, 2012, for greatest impact: https://secure3.convio.net/taca/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=776


    August 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm by Rachel Roth

    Hi, Sandra,

    One of the things that makes “reproductive justice” different from traditional ways of thinking about reproductive rights is that the term encompasses the right to have children as well as the right not to.

    This is critically important to counteract the history of sterilization abuse in the United States.

    Both women’s reproductive rights and the right to adequate medical treatment in prison are constitutional rights, as the article addresses. By taking a social justice approach to public policy, we evaluate the costs and benefits of “tough on crime” vs. “smart on crime” policies, asking how much we spend as a society on imprisonment compared to things like education, health care, environmental protection, infrastructure, and public transportation, and what we get in return.

    Because the United States – in contrast to many other countries – imposes prison sentences for nonviolent crimes like drug possession and shoplifting, we spend a lot of our tax revenues to keep people in prison. At the end of the day, I think our revenues would be spent better on programs to help keep people out of prison in the first place and help all people lead healthy, productive lives. This type of approach would better serve the babies whose wellbeing we both care about.


    August 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm by Sandra

    “reproductive rights”? “reproductive justice priorities”? Can you show me where in the United States Constitution these rights are addressed? And after reading your article, your examples of reproductive rights violations with women in prison doesn’t seem to be supported as the women in the article were all pregnant, thereby “reproductive” with no evidence that anyone tried to interfere with their conception prior to their incarceration. I am more concerned with the rights of the poor babies that are being carried in the wombs of these criminals and the fact that they will be birthed in a prison hospital with a poor parental example that will likely demand to raise them. So sad.


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