Rachel Roth is a writer, consultant, and advocate for reproductive justice, rights, and health. Much of her work focuses on the impact of imprisonment on women’s lives and the need for new drug policies and criminal justice policies. She lives in the Boston area and is the author of the book Making Women Pay: The Hidden Costs of Fetal Rights.
Rachel Roth is a writer, consultant, and advocate for reproductive justice, rights, and health.
Blog Post List
April 17, 2017
I was honored to talk with Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner about how incarceration affects pregnant women and families. The United States leads the world in incarcerating its citizens and residents, including parents and pregnant women. The impact of incarceration is not distributed equally: people who are already dealing with racism and discrimination or struggling to get by economically are more likely to wind up in prison and jail. This means that African American and Latina/o children are over-represented among the 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent that Kristin mentioned at the...
February 27, 2017
It should have been a best-case scenario for the woman in the Indiana prison. She was early in her pregnancy, serving time close to a city with more than one abortion provider. But despite repeated requests for an abortion, prison personnel stalled and put obstacles in her path until it was too late. Whether intentional or simply a coincidence, by the time someone from the prison finally took her to a clinic, some seven weeks after she first said she wanted to have an abortion, she was just past the legal limit of 13 weeks and six days in Indiana. Jane Doe continued her pregnancy to term...
September 30, 2016
“ The Hyde Amendment is designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.” – Justice Thurgood Marshall September 30th marks 40 years of the Hyde Amendment, the federal policy that denies access to abortion to millions who rely on government-funded health insurance plans. The Hyde Amendment affects members of the military, volunteers in the Peace Corps, and those who work for the federal government - as well as every family member enrolled in their insurance plan. It also targets low-income women who qualify for Medicaid, disabled women who qualify for...
August 25, 2016
Perhaps a million women will be left on the sidelines as we celebrate 96 years of voting rights this Women’s Equality Day . These are women affected by felony disenfranchisement laws – state laws that deny individuals convicted of felony offenses the right to vote while they are incarcerated, while they are on probation or parole, and in some cases for the rest of their lives. In 2004, an estimated that 792,200 women could not vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws. This is up from 676,700 in 2000. At this rate of increase, at least one million women would likely be affected today...
May 7, 2016
Mother’s Day is bittersweet for tens of thousands of families separated by incarceration who wish they were together. A majority of women in prison and jail are mothers; more mothers are locked away in “detention facilities” for immigrants and refugees seeking asylum. Some organizations are mobilizing support for mothers who are incarcerated this Mother’s Day. The Prison Birth Project , a reproductive justice organization in Western Massachusetts, created #MamasDayAcrossBars to send supportive messages over the wall to pregnant women and mothers in jail. The campaign also aims to lessen the...
January 20, 2016
Women in New Jersey jails and prisons face yet another year without legislative protection from shackling during pregnancy and childbirth. The Governor chose not to sign the bill that landed on his desk the last day of the session. A spokesperson for Governor Chris Christie declined to comment on his reasons for rejecting the anti-shackling bill. Deputy Press Secretary Joelle Farrell told MomsRising that, “Many of these bills seek to address important issues that deserve attention, but not with an 11th hour, ill-considered rush.” Despite this criticism of the Legislature for passing so many...
January 11, 2016
On the last day of the legislative session, New Jersey lawmakers enacted a measure to limit the use of restraints on women during labor and childbirth. The Assembly voted 75-0, following a 39-0 vote in the Senate earlier in the year. It is now up to Governor Chris Christie to decide whether to sign it. “Everybody deserves to have a child in a healthy way,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, who called the bill “commonsense [and] humane.” Former Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, now a U.S. Congresswoman, first introduced an anti-shackling bill in...
December 22, 2015
Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York signed into law a measure that greatly expands protection against the inhumane and risky practice of restraining women when they are pregnant or have recently had a baby. Although New York enacted a law in 2009 to prevent the use of restraints on women during labor and childbirth, that did not put a stop to the practice. Research by the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of New York found that 23 of 27 women who gave birth after the law took effect were still restrained. Moreover, the Correctional Association heard harrowing...
December 10, 2015
In 2012, Nicole G. was left to give birth alone in a Texas jail cell. Her baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and the baby died. This week, the county government decided to settle Nicole’s lawsuit rather than take its chances in court. The settlement “saves my client a lot more anguish that she would be faced with going through the trial process,” said her lawyer, Rick Bunch . Nicole’s story catalyzed a coalition campaign for better treatment of pregnant women in jail, bringing new activists to join the work of long-time advocates Texas Jail Project and ACLU of Texas . Earlier...
September 30, 2015
A new law took effect this month in Texas to open a window onto jail conditions for pregnant women. This new Texas law is unusual because it requires the government to compile and make available detailed information about jail policies and practices. Too often, when people try to get this information, they encounter roadblocks. People can file public records requests (also known as freedom of information act requests) but in a state like Texas with almost 250 county jails, preparing and following up on so many requests is a mammoth task. In states with weak public records laws, government...
July 28, 2015
Why does my inbox have messages saying that Maine’s new law against shackling pregnant women is an “accidental win”? True, the governor of Maine let this and a number of other progressive bills become law without his signature, and then claimed to have vetoed them . But if activists hadn’t run such an effective campaign to win hearts and minds in the legislature, the governor wouldn’t have had the bill on his desk in the first place. Read my take over at RH Reality Check on the crucial role of advocacy in winning positive change. In addition to outlawing shackling , the other new laws in...
July 8, 2015
Today, Maine joins 21 states and the District of Columbia in enacting legal protections for pregnant women in prison and jail with a statute that bans shackling during labor and childbirth, limits shackling at all other times, and also respects women’s privacy and informs them of their rights. LD 1013 , “An Act to Prevent the Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners,” will go into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends. Although the governor was expected to veto the bill despite widespread support , he let the 10-day window pass without taking action. While the governor insists that he did...
June 29, 2015
Maine could soon become the first state in 2015 to limit the shackling of pregnant women in prison. The bill against shackling is a priority for the Maine Alliance for Reproductive Freedom and an integral part of the ACLU of Maine ‘s focus on criminal justice reform. Twenty-one other states and the District of Columbia currently have laws to limit the dangerous and inhumane practice. If enacted, LD 1013 , “An Act to Prevent the Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners,” would provide broad protection of pregnant women’s health and rights. The bill would prohibit the use of restraints on women “known...
May 15, 2015
One year ago today, I was thrilled to have a front-row seat when the Massachusetts governor signed the pregnancy care and anti-shackling bill into law. Twelve months later, my mood is tempered by the mixed picture we see around the state, from full compliance with the law on paper to violations of the law in practice. The Massachusetts law is unusual because it takes a comprehensive approach to pregnant women’s health, combining strict limits on the use of restraints with minimum standards of health care, nutrition, and other conditions of confinement, including guarantees of safe...
April 19, 2015
“I believe that our concern must be for pregnant women everywhere, and especially for those who suffer most deprivation and who are denied their liberty.” — Sheila Kitzinger, 1997 Sheila Kitzinger, whose pioneering research and activism on behalf of woman-centered childbirth helped to transform millions of women’s experiences of maternity care, died this month. She was 86. A British anthropologist, Kitzinger was an early critic of the medicalization of childbirth, the deference given to doctors, and the widespread use of medical interventions. She “may be the most important individual in the...
February 12, 2015
Today the Correctional Association of New York released a major report calling on the state to overhaul its substandard health care for the women it imprisons. Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons draws on five years of research, including interviews with almost a thousand women in prison, data from more than 1,500 surveys filled out by women in prison, and reviews of health care policies and health services data. Emerging from this rich trove of information is a story of deficient health care delivered according to policies that...
December 31, 2014
As we reflect on the past year, we see that 2014 brought some progress on protecting the reproductive health and rights of women who are incarcerated, but also revealed the deep, even intractable, problems that women face inside prison walls. Reducing the scale of incarceration is a critical part of any strategy to safeguard the health, rights, and futures of women who experience incarceration.
July 30, 2014
What’s going on in Texas? Jails in the state are endangering pregnant women and their fetuses, despite the state’s professed interest in “unborn babies.” In May, a woman named Nicole Guerrero filed a lawsuit against the Wichita County Jail for ignoring her when she was in labor. Locked alone in a cell, Nicole gave birth on a mat on the floor to a premature baby who died. In July, a woman named Jessica De Samito in the Guadalupe County Jail worried she might face a similar fate. Jail officials were noncommittal about giving Jessica the methadone she needs to keep from going into sudden...
July 11, 2014
What’s going on in Texas? Jails in the state are endangering pregnant women and their fetuses, despite the state’s professed interest in “unborn babies.” In May, a woman named Nicole Guerrero filed a lawsuit against the Wichita County Jail for ignoring her when she was in labor. Locked alone in a cell, Nicole gave birth on a mat on the floor to a premature baby who died. Now a woman named Jessica De Samito in the Guadalupe County Jail worries she may face a similar fate. Jail officials are noncommittal about giving Jessica the methadone she needs to keep from going into sudden withdrawal - a...
May 16, 2014
After signing a bill to outlaw the shackling of women in labor, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick told the packed room, “It blows my mind that I have to sign a law for that.”
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