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Abortion Access of Women Prisoners is Limited by Varying Policies - Part 2

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Diana Kasdan has written an article in Viewpoint about legal principles that are relevant in determining if prisons' approaches to abortion procedures are constitutional. Her article is titled "Abortion Access for Incarcerated Women: Are Correctional Health Practices in Conflict with Correctional Standards?" Kasdan points out that although women in prison retain their right to an abortion, the practices of prison officials, and the experience of pregnant women who are under their rule, differ greatly from state to state, county to county and prison to prison.

Considering this scenario, what does Kasdan recommend? She believes that there should be a standardization, and enforcing of policy guidelines that can help health care providers, administrators etc. to develop appropriate standards of health care for all prisons.

This may sound easy and obvious, but apparently it is not happening across the country. It wasn't too long ago (and it may still be the case in some prison facilities) where women were forced to wear shackles while giving birth. How degrading is that? Women in prison should be treated with dignity when giving birth. And they definitely should have full access to an abortion, without any obstacles placed in their path.

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EmpowHER Guest

Thanks so much for your comments on women's reproductive rights in prisons - a subject that is so often overlooked, and that needs to be addressed. A society can be judged by the way it treats those who are marginalized.

May 6, 2009 - 10:56am
EmpowHER Guest


Thanks for highlighting this serious, often overlooked, problem. Arbitrary, inadequate, and inhumane treatment of pregnant women in prisons and jails (and increasingly immigration detention as well), remains a problem nationwide. Unconstitutional obstacles to abortion care (as discussed in my article http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/psrh/full/4105909.pdf) are one of many ways that prisons and jail deny women critical reproductive health services and subject them to unsafe conditions. In fact, the use of shackles, including leg irons, on laboring women remains all too common in many jails and prisons around the country. Fortunately, real progress is being made on that front. Just this year, bills to restrict the use of restraints on pregnant inmates were introduced in Arkansas, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, and Texas. The New Mexico bill has already become law and that state now joins California, Illinois, and Vermont as among those with statutes restricting the practice of shackling pregnant inmates. This is a great start, but there remains an urgent need for improvements in prison policies and state laws to address the range of dangerously inadequate reproductive health services, particularly prenatal and obstetrical care, for pregnant inmates. You can go here to find out how different state prisons treat pregnant inmates, and here for other information on the work the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project is doing to protect the health and rights of pregnant women in prisons and jails nationwide.

Diana Kasdan
Staff Attorney, ACLU RFP

May 4, 2009 - 11:07am
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