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Maryland is now the 19th state with a law against shackling pregnant women.

The law aims to protect women and teens from the unsafe and needlessly traumatic use of restraints during pregnancy, labor and childbirth, and postpartum recovery.

It sets new standards for every prison, jail, and juvenile detention facility in the state to follow.

Rebecca Swope gave birth when she was incarcerated in Maryland nine years ago. She reflects on what passage of the bill means to her:

Over the years, I was never able to grieve or heal from the trauma because it was still happening to other women. Now, for the first time in nine years, I finally have been able to shed tears knowing that Maryland has stood up and said this barbaric practice must end. Nothing will change my only birthing experience but hearing the voices of Marylanders calling for change is healing for me, more so than you can ever imagine. Now I will work to support other women who have endured what I did in order to unite as survivors - our trauma will not define our future.

Swope turned her painful personal experience into effective activism, testifying before the Legislature and working with Power Inside and the ACLU on an impressive campaign that drew together formerly incarcerated women with civil rights organizations and medical professionals.

The campaign garnered attention from traditional media and used “DIY” testimonials, videos, and social media to get women’s stories into the debate, as well as fielding a petition to educate the public and document support for changing the way that prisons and jails treat pregnant women.

Legislators responded with unanimous votes in favor of the bill.

Now that the law will be taking effect, Swope reminds us:

There is still work ahead in regards to accountability, education and monitoring for the state and for support and healing of the trauma for the women who have endured this horrific practice.

Monitoring and enforcement are key to successful implementation of laws against shackling. Experience in California and Texas shows that local jails can be slow to comply with new state statutes, or ignore them altogether.

Governor O’Malley signed the bill earlier this month without news coverage. Thanks to Jacqueline Robarge of Power Inside for letting us know!

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