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Reproductive Rights News

We’ll remember this in 2016, Governor Christie.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - 4 hours 32 min ago
We’ll remember this in 2016, Governor Christie.

Chris Christie Embraces Abortion Ban
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday joined other potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates in endorsing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

This judge had the PERFECT answer to why so many anti-choice laws are completely...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - 6 hours 2 min ago
This judge had the PERFECT answer to why so many anti-choice laws are completely unnecessary.

New York Legislators Move to Strengthen Abortion Rights

RH Reality Check - 7 hours 8 min ago

New York state lawmakers are moving forward with legislation to codify a person’s right to abortion, moving state law in line with the federal standard outlined in Roe v. Wade.

The New York Assembly approved AB 6221 on Wednesday in a 95-51 vote, framing it as a way to increase women’s access to reproductive services. Democrats dominate the state’s assembly, 106 to 44, and the GOP has a one-seat majority in the state senate.

“When a woman is denied the ability to make reproductive health decisions, she is statistically more likely to find herself unemployed, on public assistance and below the poverty line,” assembly speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement. “The Supreme Court stood up for women in Roe v. Wade more than 40 years ago, have reaffirmed their decision in subsequent cases, and now it is our turn to do the same.”

New York first legalized abortion in 1970, adopting what was seen as the most liberal abortion law in the country. But the law is not completely in line with the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision three years later: unlike the federal standard, which protects abortion in all cases until viability and after viability in cases where the pregnant person’s health or life are endangered, the New York law allowed later abortions only to protect a pregnant person’s life.

AB 6221, introduced in March by a long list of sponsors, would change state law to allow abortions after 24 weeks in cases of both life endangerment and health.

The state assembly tried in 2013 to codify abortion rights in the state, including such a provision as part of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ten-point Women’s Equality Act.

After a five-month battle, the state senate rejected the bill, which would have also increased workplace protections for women and barred landlords from discriminating against victims of domestic violence, in large part because of the abortion rights provision.

If the bill were to pass the Republican-led senate, New York would become the eighth state in the country to codify abortion in line with federal standards.

Nineteen states have laws that express their intent to restrict abortion despite Roe v. Wade, including laws that would ban abortion if Roe were overturned and unenforceable abortion bans left over from before the court’s Roe decision.

Image: Shutterstock

The post New York Legislators Move to Strengthen Abortion Rights appeared first on RH Reality Check.

In theory, ‘religious freedom’ laws sound reasonable - but in reality, they’re j...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - 8 hours 32 min ago
In theory, ‘religious freedom’ laws sound reasonable - but in reality, they’re just an excuse to discriminate against women and the LGBT community.

Here's a look at history of 'religious freedom' laws
Pence has said it does not legalize discrimination, but declined to say Sunday whether it should be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

235 Anti-Choice Bills Proposed in State Legislatures Since January

RH Reality Check - 8 hours 52 min ago

Anti-choice lawmakers in state legislatures nationwide have continued a steady crackdown on abortion rights in 2015, while also introducing some never before seen kinds of legislation that would restrict reproductive health care in radical and sometimes unforeseen ways.

The wave of anti-choice bills in 2015 continues a multi-year campaign by state lawmakers to restrict reproductive rights; this effort has in part been coordinated by well-funded anti-choice organizations such as Americans United for Life (AUL) and the National Right to Life Committee.

Since the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans made massive gains across the country, hundreds of anti-choice bills have been introduced in state legislatures, and more of those bills have become law in that time than during the entire decade prior.

Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told RH Reality Check that the election of GOP majorities in state legislatures and Republican governors during the 2010 midterms are largely responsible for the wave of anti-choice legislation, despite the fact that abortion rights were not a major political factor during those campaigns.

“That election was not a referendum on reproductive health and on abortion,” Allen said. “But we’re still seeing the impacts of those elections today.”

There have been at least 235 anti-choice bills introduced in state legislatures in the first three months of 2015—bills that would place restrictions on abortion providers or erect barriers to abortion access, according to analysis by RH Reality Check.

Thirty-two bills have been voted on and passed by at least one legislative chamber so far this year; 11 of those have been passed by both chambers, and have either been signed by the governor or are awaiting signature.

Almost every state legislature has been in session this year, and so far lawmakers in 39 states have introduced at least one bill to restrict reproductive rights. While there have been a few anti-choice bills introduced in most state legislatures, lawmakers in some states have been busy introducing astonishing numbers of anti-choice proposals.

“In terms of the numbers, we’ve had a pretty good run of it these last few years, and this year we will pass substantive legislation as well,” Mary Spaulding Balch, state policy director for anti-choice National Right to Life Committee, told the Washington Examiner. “At the end of the day, I would bet we’ll have a pretty good year.”

No other state in the country has seen more anti-choice bills introduced in 2015 than Texas, which has seen 25 such bills proposed this year. Lawmakers there appear to be making up for lost time, since the biennial legislature was not in session in 2014.

Legislators in Missouri introduced more anti-choice bills last year than any other state. The state’s lawmakers who are opposed to abortion rights continued their aggressive assault on such rights this year, with 20 anti-choice bills introduced so far in the state.

Voters in Tennessee last year approved an amendment to the state constitution to allow the legislature to consider legislation to regulate abortion, and state lawmakers wasted no time introducing bills to crack down on reproductive freedom. This year a dozen anti-choice bills have been introduced in the state, many of which seek to reinstate laws previously struck down by the state supreme court.

Tennessee’s spate of anti-choice measures was fairly predictable in a state legislature where three in four legislators are Republican.

State lawmakers in Minnesota, Iowa, and South Carolina have also introduced several anti-choice bills: 14, 11, and 12, respectively.

Louisiana is the lone state legislature not to have convened in the first three months of 2015. However, when the legislative session begins on April 13, there will likely be legislation introduced to restrict reproductive rights.

Louisiana lawmakers during the 2014 legislative session introduced several bills to restrict reproductive rights, including the omnibus anti-choice bill HB 388, which was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and threatens to close three out of the state’s five abortion clinics.

Continued Assault on Providers and Patients

The dozens of anti-choice bills introduced by state lawmakers would restrict reproductive rights in myriad ways. Among the most common types of anti-choice bills are those that would restrict the ability of abortion providers to serve patients, and for patients to access safe abortion care.

Proposed GOP legislation meant to complicate bureaucratic regulatory regimes for abortion providers has been introduced more than any another type of anti-choice legislation in 2015. There have been 47 of these types of bills introduced since January, including targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) laws, physician reporting requirements, and other reporting requirements.

TRAP laws require clinics that provide abortion care to meet medically unnecessary regulations, such as the standards required for ambulatory surgical centers. Others require that the physician providing abortion care has admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility.

Similar laws passed last year in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Indiana, leaving in doubt the ability of reproductive health-care clinics to keep their doors open.

These TRAP laws, however, have regularly faced legal challenges from reproductive rights advocates.

While a lawsuit challenging the Oklahoma TRAP law has been unsuccessful, other legal challenges to such laws have been successful. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of HB 388 in Louisiana, and a federal appeals court struck down a similar law in Mississippi.

A legal challenge of a Texas law that has forced dozens of clinics to close around the state awaits a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

There have been 39 bills introduced in state legislatures that would restrict access to reproductive health care by creating burdensome requirements for women seeking abortions. So-called “informed consent” bills include medically unnecessary requirements to which women seeking abortions must submit, including forced counseling, forced ultrasounds, coercion tests, and waiting periods.

A bill mandating forced counseling has already been passed by lawmakers in Arizona, and has been delivered to Gov. Doug Ducey (R) for his signature or veto. The bill includes a requirement that women seeking abortion care must be informed that the procedure could be reversed, despite no substantiated medical evidence to support that statement.

Another target of the nationwide anti-choice movement: abortion providers having the ability to use telemedicine to offer abortion care to women in rural areas. With telemedicine abortion, women are provided with medication abortion pills at a local clinic after being consulted by a physician via video conference.

“This has been an ongoing trend over the last couple of years,” Allen said. “These are preemptive bans, because in the vast majority of states where these are being proposed, there are no telemedicine abortion services available.”

Telemedicine abortion bans passed this year by lawmakers in Arkansas and Idaho were signed by the states’ Republican governors. Those states will become the 17th and 18th states to institute such restrictions.

There have been at least 11 bills to restrict medication abortion in 2015.

Allen said one of the more “sinister” anti-choice strategies is introducing bills requiring abortion providers to use outdated Food and Drug Administration protocols for medication abortion.

“These bills are incredibly insidious because they require doctors to ignore their own experience and the best and most recent medical evidence,” Allen said. “Yet the proponents are cloaking themselves in the idea that the evidence-based protocol is unsafe, which is absolutely untrue.”

Abortion Bans and Criminalizing Pregnant Women

Lawmakers have also introduced several bills that would ban abortion after a certain point in pregnancy or fetal development. That strategy is hardly new.

Lawmakers have also introduced several bills to ban abortion after or around 20 weeks’ gestation, with the intent of provoking a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

About 1.4 percent of all abortions performed in the United States in 2011 were after 20 weeks’ gestation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lawmakers have also pushed 14 bills that would ban abortion based on the determination of gender, race, or genetic anomalies. The justification for these bans is often based on misinformation and harmful cultural and racial stereotypes.

And despite a string of electoral and legislative failures, state lawmakers have this year introduced at least a dozen “personhood” bills, which would criminalize abortion and ban many forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization, and health care for pregnant women.

Such bills so far this year have not had any success: “personhood” legislation introduced in deep-red Mississippi died in committee, and similar legislation introduced in Iowa failed to meet a legislative deadline for consideration during this legislative session.

Bills have also been introduced in GOP-controlled legislatures to criminalize pregnant people, and allow prosecution of those who engage in behavior deemed risky for the fetus. Lawmakers in Mississippi and North Carolina introduced this type of legislation this year.

At least 11 of these and other types of so-called fetal harm or homicide laws have been introduced by state lawmakers so far this year. At at least 38 states have fetal homicide laws on the books.

Old Strategy Used on New Target

While legislation to ban or restrict abortion after a certain number of weeks of pregnancy or fetal development has become a common tactic of anti-choice lawmakers, another tactic has emerged that has adapted a decades-old strategy to ban or restrict a method of abortion care.

Legislation that would ban the procedure called dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is often used during second-trimester abortions and the management of miscarriage, has been introduced by lawmakers in four states.

The bills, model legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, redefine the D and E procedure as “dismemberment” abortion.

“We’ve never seen this language before,” Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute, told the Kansas City Star. “It’s not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”

The legislative language, which includes graphic and medically inaccurate descriptions of the D and E procedure, is key to NRLC’s strategy. This is similar to the strategy that was employed in the 1990s to successfully pass a federal ban on the intact dilation and extraction abortion procedure known as so-called “partial birth” abortion.

Kansas became the first state in the country to pass a ban on the D and E procedure, but the impact the law will have on abortion care and access is still unclear.

Erin Davison-Rippey, director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told RH Reality Check that the legislation is part of a “gruesome” strategy by anti-choice activists and lawmakers to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.

“When legislatures pick a specific procedure or technique to regulate or ban, they really are reaching into the relationship between a woman and her doctor,” Davison-Rippey said.

Bills to ban the D and E procedure have also been introduced in Oklahoma, Missouri, and South Carolina.

Image: Shutterstock

The post 235 Anti-Choice Bills Proposed in State Legislatures Since January appeared first on RH Reality Check.

“It is a personal decision, and how dare government get into my business.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America - 10 hours 32 min ago
“It is a personal decision, and how dare government get into my business.”

Ohio State Rep: Why I Spoke Out About My Rape and Abortion
Teresa Fedor on the shattering incident that compelled her to fight.

“This is junk science. It is quack medicine.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America - 12 hours 58 min ago
“This is junk science. It is quack medicine.”

Arizona governor signs bill restricting abortions and abortion insurance
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill Monday that requires abortion providers to tell women they can reverse the effects of a drug-induced abortion.

Progressive ‘People’s Budget’ Gains Influence in Congress

RH Reality Check - 13 hours 33 min ago

The alternative budget proposal from the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has majority support from the House Democratic caucus for the first time in five years.

The CPC’s “People’s Budget” earned “yea” votes last week from 96 out of 188 House Democrats. Last year, the CPC’s “Better-Off Budget” managed just 89 out of 199 Democratic votes.

Even though the Democratic Party lost 16 seats in the 2014 midterm elections, congressional progressives managed to get both more votes and a higher percentage of Democrats supporting their budget this year than last year.

The progressive budget failed 330-96 in the House, but it was never expected to pass the GOP-dominated chamber. Backers of the People’s Budget were hoping for about 100 votes as a show of growing support for the progressive policies in the budget.

“The fact that more than half of all Democrats voted for a proposal brought forward by a caucus whose membership accounts for less than a third of the Party is tacit approval at large of our priorities, and a recognition that progressive policies provide workable, common sense solutions to grow our middle class, increase access to quality education, and meet challenges like climate change head-on,” CPC co-chair Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) told RH Reality Check in a statement.

The People’s Budget aims to create 8.4 million “good jobs” with fair pay and good benefits by 2018 while boosting GDP and keeping deficits at sustainable levels.

The CPC’s budget charges that the economy no longer works for people who work, given that wages have stagnated for the past 30 years while productivity, corporate profits, and economic inequality have all skyrocketed.

The progressive budget proposals have widespread support among Americans too.

The budget’s large job stimulus program would directly hire workers to rebuild infrastructure, help expand early childhood programs, and achieve other national goals. It raises taxes on the rich, allows states to transition to a single-payer health-care system, and spends $546 billion more than the current baseline on programs for low-income people like unemployment insurance, welfare, housing assistance, and food stamps.

“The People’s Budget is a statement of progressive values that the Elizabeth Warren wing of American politics can be proud of,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

One of the Democrats who didn’t vote for the CPC’s budget was Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and the lead sponsor of the Democratic caucus’s alternative budget.

Van Hollen is running for Barbara Mikulski’s Senate seat in 2016 against Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), who voted for the CPC budget. The opposing votes could be a window into the candidates’ political positioning in what promises to be a contentious battle over liberal and progressive bona fides.

Edwards has support from many national progressive and women’s groups who find her a better progressive champion than Van Hollen, and who think Mikulski, the longest serving woman in Congress, should be replaced by another woman.

Van Hollen points to his “very progressive” voting record and near-perfect ratings from liberal groups, but some activists are wary of his compromises on issues like the failed Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, which would have effectively cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The Democrats’ budget has much in common with the CPC’s proposals. Both raise the minimum wage, provide paid sick leave, expand tax breaks for working people, and invest in education, jobs, and infrastructure.

The CPC’s budget also raises and invests several times the sum of what the Democrats proposed, a likely non-starter for the caucus’s moderate Democrats.

Van Hollen said he supports elements of the CPC’s budget, like a 4 percent cost-of-living pay increase for federal workers and a public option for the Affordable Care Act exchanges, that didn’t make the cut in the Democratic budget. He said the CPC budget was “far superior” to the Republican budgets.

But he disagreed with some of the ways the CPC budget spends its revenue. He points to his own “action plan” for the middle class as a better model for tax relief, and prefers his method of carbon caps that pay a dividend to every American over the progressives’ carbon price that rebates 25 percent of revenues to help low-income families.

“Like Leader Pelosi and others who share many CPC priorities, I differ on some of the details of their policy changes,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “But most of all I am very grateful to the CPC for their significant contribution in the development of the Democratic Alternative and for their vision—which I share—of a growing economy with more shared prosperity.”


The post Progressive ‘People’s Budget’ Gains Influence in Congress appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Landmark Labor Case Against McDonald’s Moves Forward

RH Reality Check - 14 hours 7 min ago

Monday marked an important step in a landmark labor case that could bring greater corporate accountability and worker protections, as a federal agency moved to consider whether McDonald’s should be held responsible for what employees call poor working conditions.

More than 300 unfair labor practice charges have been brought against the fast food giant since November 2012, when hundreds of demonstrators in New York City began demanding better working conditions. McDonald’s has been accused of leveling a backlash against those pushing for higher wages and better workplace conditions.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided in December to move forward with about 80 of those charges by bringing complaints against the company, and on Monday the board took up consideration of the consolidated case. The case is notable because the NLRB will be for the first time treating McDonald’s as a “joint employer,” meaning that the corporation can be held liable for labor law violations committed by its franchises.

The complaints allege that McDonald’s “violated the rights of employees working at McDonald’s restaurants at various locations around the country by, among other things, making statements and taking actions against them for engaging in activities aimed at improving their wages and working conditions, including participating in nationwide fast food worker protests,” according to the NLRB’s announcement.

The labor board’s general counsel, Richard F. Griffin Jr., said in July that the fast food company would be tried jointly based on evidence that it orders franchises to comply with rules on food, cleanliness, and employment practices.

Employees in March 2014 filed seven class-actions accusing McDonald’s of widespread wage theft, linking the company’s responsibility to the franchise owners by showing how the company monitored labor costs at all its stores through a computer system.

A federal civil rights lawsuit alleged in January that ten former McDonald’s employees experienced “rampant racial and sexual harassment, committed by the restaurants’ highest-ranking supervisors” at three McDonald’s restaurants in Virginia. The plaintiffs said they complained to McDonald’s corporate office, but that their complaints were ignored.

Company workers are being backed by the Service Employees International Union and labor rights advocates, who hailed the July decision as paving the way for increased worker protections.

“McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchises, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,” Micah Wissinger, a lawyer who filed complaints on behalf of several of the company’s workers, told the New York Times following the July decision. “The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchises to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.”

If the ruling goes in their favor, worker advocates say McDonald’s employees might finally have the leverage needed to convince the company to raise wages and organize unions.

McDonald’s has maintained that the NLRB has overstepped its authority in trying the company jointly, saying in a December statement that the NLRB’s actions “improperly and dramatically strike at the heart of the franchise system—a system that creates economic opportunity, jobs and income for thousands of business owners and their employees across the country.”

“McDonald’s has taken the appropriate measures, working properly with its independent franchisees, to defend against the attack on its business,” the company said.

Image: Rob Wilson /

The post Landmark Labor Case Against McDonald’s Moves Forward appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Deprived of Care, Incarcerated Women Suffer Miscarriages, Stillbirths, Ectopic Pregnancies

RH Reality Check - 15 hours 14 min ago

This is the second article in RH Reality Check’s Women, Incarcerated series. You can read the first piece in that series here.

On the morning of September 11, 2011, Krystal Moore thought she was dying. Sharp pain stabbed at her stomach, so much so that she curled up into a fetal position on her bed. She didn’t know what was happening. Though she was pregnant, she was only six months along, not nearly ready to give birth.

She couldn’t simply call the family doctor. She was an inmate, serving time at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, Illinois, for smoking marijuana while on probation. But in the early hours of that Sunday morning, her pain was escalating quickly.

“I woke up hurting,” she told RH Reality Check. “I tried to get in the shower, and I couldn’t.”

She asked to go the hospital. She had spoken to some other inmates, and she began to think she was having contractions. The pressure on her stomach was getting worse.

Krystal Moore

A guard telephoned the jail nurse, Ivetta Charee Sangster, to tell her that Moore was having stomach pains. Sangster was on duty that Sunday, though she wasn’t actually at the detention center, which, like many jails, doesn’t have full-time medical staff available, despite housing a sick and vulnerable population. Even if Sangster had been there, she was only a licensed nurse practitioner, a role that generally involves providing only very basic medical care, like taking a patient’s blood pressure or changing a bandage. She would not have been able to give Moore the urgent care she required for what had become a serious infection of her womb.

Meredith Manning—Tennessee, 2004

Twenty-three-year-old Manning began to miscarry in a Corrections Corporation of America facility. She bled for two days before she was taken to the hospital, where she gave birth to a baby that died shortly after. This case settled for $250,000.

Sangster sounded irritated on the phone, according to the transcript of the call that later appeared in a lawsuit filed by Moore.

“Krystal Moore, she’s—in my opinion, a lot of times she’s full of shit,” Sangster told the guard. “You can go eyeball her and call me back if you want. She’s probably full of shit. But you can let her know that she can see the doctor tomorrow if she’d like.”

Our attempts to contact Sangster were unsuccessful.

By 2:30 that afternoon—at least eight hours since she first alerted guards to her pain—Moore began bleeding while sitting on a toilet. Screaming out of pain and fear, she was finally taken to a local hospital, but not before being forced to walk down the stairs from her cell to the ambulance, according to a court opinion from December 2013.

Moore was fully dilated by the time she arrived at the hospital, where she says she was shackled to the hospital bed. Then, around 5:20 p.m., she gave birth to twins. Had she been taken to hospital earlier, there was a possibility that the babies could have survived, according to an expert who provided evidence for the lawsuit. Instead, one baby lived for only a day; the other survived for 16 days.

“I remember it clear as yesterday. I think about my twins every day and every night. How would they be?” Moore said.

Shela Williams—Texas, 2014

Williams was 18 weeks pregnant when she entered a Texas jail. She had a high-risk pregnancy but did not receive adequate obstetric care while incarcerated. When a doctor finally did examine Williams, he told her that her child “wasn’t going to make it.” She went to a nearby hospital, where she delivered her stillborn; she was not allowed to attend his funeral.

Moore’s case settled last year for $620,000, according to her lawyer. But in a five-month investigation, RH Reality Check found that her story is not unique. After reviewing more than 200 legal cases, as well as the Human Rights Defense Center’s database of “Deaths in [Corrections Corporation of America] Custody,” RH Reality Check identified at least a dozen instances of women experiencing miscarriages, stillbirths, and ectopic pregnancies in jails and prisons across the country, in circumstances that show a shocking lack of medical care from the professionals charged with providing it.

This number is most likely a dramatic under-representation of the problem. In addition to the shame and grief that many women feel at the loss of a pregnancy, incarcerated women often fear complaining about their miscarriages behind bars because they do not want to compromise ongoing cases or face retribution from jail or prison staff, according to community activists and researchers who work closely with incarcerated women.

Bethany Cajúne—Montana, 2009

Although Cajúne was pregnant, and both her doctor and drug treatment counselor had prescribed her continued use of Suboxone (a medication that suppresses withdrawal symptoms) in jail, the doctors and nurses there would not give her the prescription. She went through immediate withdrawal, losing ten pounds in less than two weeks. She feared she would lose her baby. Finally, after nine days, a public defender intervened and she received the treatment. This case settled in 2011.

To be sure, low-quality prenatal care is a symptom of the larger problem of poor medical care in corrections facilities in the United States, as has been documented in California, Arizona, and Florida and through thousands of lawsuits against prisons and the private contractors that sometimes run them.

Prison health services were so bad in the 1960s and 1970s that in 1976 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that failure to provide appropriate medical care to prisoners amounted to a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. As a result, incarcerated people are the only group in the United States with a constitutional right to medical care.

But with the swelling number of women behind bars, the failure to provide prenatal care is becoming a major concern.

The cases we examined were strikingly similar to Moore’s: pregnant women waiting weeks to see doctors, nurses instructing women to take antibiotics for labor pains, and inmates miscarrying in toilets or on cell floors. Sangster’s comments would have fit into any of the cases that we read. Again and again, we saw women inmates in need of prenatal care ignored, silenced, and disbelieved.

Gretchen Harbison—Indiana, 2010

Harbison could not feel her fetus move for three days. She was eventually transferred to a hospital, where she delivered a stillborn. Harbison alleges that the prison doctor failed to treat her pregnancy with any urgency, despite knowing that she had four complicated deliveries in her past.

“I feel like that jail done killed my kids,” said Moore. “I’ve been feeling that since the day I gave birth.”

Prenatal Care Is Crucial—and Missing—Behind Bars

At the end of 2012, there were more than 200,000 women in prisons and jails, comprising 9 percent of the nation’s incarcerated population. Based on current trends, the number of women behind bars is expected to grow.

The median age of women in state and federal prison is 34, and the majority of incarcerated women are of reproductive age, according to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Many women in prison have high-risk pregnancies, complicated by problems including poor nutrition, domestic violence, mental illness, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Poor prenatal care in corrections facilities is a grave concern, especially since those facilities have become one of the major providers of health care for marginalized communities, according to Brad Brockmann, executive director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, an affiliate of Brown University.

“For many of the individuals who come into the system, their first physical as adults is when they enter prison or jail, because prior to January 2014 Medicaid was not available to many, with only safety-net programs available in the community,” Brockmann said.

Tiffany Pollitt—Pennsylvania, 2010

An inmate hit Pollitt in the stomach; she repeatedly reported the incident, but no doctors or nurses took her seriously. She continued to say she was in serious pain. Corrections officers told Pollitt to “grow up,” asked her what she expected them to do, and told her “better luck with next shift.” Then Pollitt bled all over the floor of her cell. Finally, she was transferred to a nearby hospital, where she delivered a stillborn baby.

The quality of prenatal care provided by prisons or jails varies wildly between and within states, with most facilities providing very poor care, according to a 2010 review of state policies by the National Women’s Law Center and the Rebecca Project.

The survey graded all 50 states on their treatment of mothers behind bars. Thirty-eight states received a failing grade in the category of prenatal care. The researchers reported that 43 states do not require medical exams as part of prenatal care for women in confinement. Forty-eight states don’t offer pregnant women screening for HIV.

And this review only examined what states said their policies were; there were no on-site inspections. “Paper reviews are of limited value in a corrections context,” said Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

The reality is, no one is looking closely at what is happening in practice on a national scale when it comes to the care of incarcerated pregnant people, experts told RH Reality Check.

DeShawn Balka—Georgia, 2012

Balka was about 24 weeks pregnant when she entered the jail. She experienced nausea, cramping, bleeding, and vaginal discharge, which she reported to jail guards. No one examined her. Then she began experiencing extreme pain and cramping. She sat on the toilet in her cell and pressed the emergency call button; no one responded. Ultimately she gave birth into the toilet. Her baby was pronounced dead at the hospital a few hours later.

For instance, there are no clear answers to some fundamental questions, such as how many women are pregnant during incarceration each year in the United States. A 2011 report by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists put the number at 6 to 10 percent of incarcerated women, while a 2008 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that between 4 and 5 percent of women admitted to state and federal prisons that year were pregnant.

There are also no comprehensive data for the number of pregnant women in jails, which typically house people prior to conviction or sentencing, or sometimes for immigration matters or for shorter sentences.

And there is simply no national picture of pregnancy outcomes—miscarriages, abortions, stillbirths, and live births—for incarcerated women, experts told us. The most recent data we could find came from 1998, when the Government Accountability Office reported that there were about 1,400 births in prisons that year.

Only two states require collection of data on pregnancy outcomes for incarcerated women—Delaware and Oregon, according to the Rebecca Project report. Delaware did not respond to our request for records, but Oregon provided information recorded about the only state prison that houses women, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, between July 2012 and November 2014.

Countess Clemons—Tennessee, 2011

Eighteen-year-old Clemons started miscarrying in a prison in Tennessee. After leaving her in a cell for almost three hours, guards took Clemons to a hospital, where she delivered a baby who died soon after he was born. This case settled for $690,000 in 2014. The Corrections Corporation of America was also issued a sanction for destroying video evidence of the delay in treatment.

That data say there were 51 pregnant prisoners during that time, but give little insight into the type of care provided to these women, apart from the indication that some women were assessed to see whether their pregnancies were high-risk. Of these pregnancies, 37 resulted in births while incarcerated. Eleven women had c-sections, and three women’s labor was induced. There was one miscarriage and one abortion, and an additional four women returned a negative pregnancy test after earlier indicating that they were pregnant. At the time the data were provided, seven of the pregnant prisoners remained incarcerated, while at least two had been released prior to giving birth.

The data do not cover jails, which are governed separately by each of Oregon’s 36 different counties, according to Wendy Smith, a spokesperson with the state’s Health Services Administration.

Another data set comes from Texas, which tracks how many pregnant inmates are booked into county jails—last month, there were 382. A draft bill would require Texas jails to collect data on prenatal care, as well as the use of solitary confinement or restraints on pregnant inmates.

It’s therefore reasonable to imagine that thousands of women around the country are experiencing a wide range of pregnancy outcomes while in jails and prisons, with no oversight mechanism to track the care they receive.

But most states do not collect data on incarcerated pregnant woman, and there is no national set of data about prenatal care or pregnancy outcomes for incarcerated people.

Experts say this lack of national and local data is no coincidence.

“It’s one of the many areas where the lack of data points to the invisibility of incarcerated people, and specifically incarcerated women,” Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Correctional Association of New York’s Women in Prison Project told RH Reality Check.

Nicole Guerrero—Texas, 2012

Guerrero began to experience pain, bleeding, and cramping, and alerted medical staff. Guerrero was put in solitary confinement, where she went into labor by herself on the floor of her cell. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, and the baby was later pronounced dead. Guerrero was made to stay in solitary confinement while the infant was taken away.

Despite the lack of comprehensive national data, our investigation found that, with few exceptions, prenatal care in prisons and jails across the country is shockingly inadequate.

In addition to insufficient food and inappropriate living conditions for pregnant people, our research underlines what health experts and women’s rights advocates have said for years: Prisons and jails are among the most dangerous places to be while pregnant.

“A Near-Death Sentence” for Writing Bad Checks

For Laila Batts, poor prenatal care behind bars came close to ending her life.

In early January 2007, Batts was detained for ten days at the Elmwood Complex Women’s Facility, in Santa Clara, California, after writing a bad check to pay some bills.

Batts was in her first trimester of pregnancy the day she entered jail, and that night she began to experience spotting and severe cramping. For the next ten days, Batts complained to nurses about her pain.

By Monday, January 8, Batts told jail staff that she wanted to go to the hospital, because her condition was getting worse. Her request went unfulfilled. On January 9, a nurse saw Batts bleeding on the floor of her cell and complaining that her symptoms were getting dramatically worse, but the nurse did not send for emergency help. When Batts finally saw a doctor the next day, January 10, the doctor noted that she was suffering from an abnormal pregnancy, was at risk of an ectopic pregnancy, and required care, according to records produced in the lawsuit. But instead of providing that care, the doctor sent Batts back to her cell. Batts thought she was suffering a painful miscarriage.

“What started out as a request for modified community service in light of her pregnancy turned into a near-death sentence, bringing Ms. Batts within hours—perhaps minutes—of losing her life,” court filings said.

The day after she was released from jail, Batts woke in excruciating pain and was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room, where, she told RH Reality Check, surgeons removed her ectopic pregnancy, as well as a fallopian tube. Ectopic pregnancies are extremely dangerous, and require immediate attention to avoid potential death of the pregnant person.

Latish Durden—Georgia, 2012

Durden had a high-risk pregnancy and had surgery on her cervix while at the jail. She required constant monitoring. She began experiencing cramping, bleeding, and discharge, but she was not treated. Eventually she was taken to the hospital, where she delivered a stillborn baby.

Batts settled her case, but declined to say how much she was awarded.

What is unusual in her lawsuit is that the complaint focused on the physical and mental pain that she endured. The vast majority of cases we examined focused on the loss of the fetus, not on the suffering of the pregnant woman, because the law tends to focus more on permanent losses—the death of a “viable” fetus—than on temporary pain experienced by the woman. For this reason, we found more cases involving stillbirths (a loss of pregnancy after 20 weeks’ gestation) than miscarriages, which occur prior to 20 weeks.

And because many miscarriages are difficult, if not impossible, to prevent, it is extremely difficult for women who have suffered them while incarcerated to prove any fault on the part of the authorities. This makes mistreatment of miscarriage tough to detect, with even grassroots community advocates struggling to identify where it has occurred.

Diana Claitor, executive director of the Texas Jail Project, says she usually doesn’t hear about a miscarriage from the woman who suffered it.

“Mostly we get a grandmother calling,” Claitor told RH Reality Check. “The first call I got was an elderly Hispanic woman asking, ‘Is there any way we can get the body of our dead grandchild and put it in the family plot?’”

“Sanctity of Life in Texas Looks Like This”

Many of the cases of miscarriage or stillbirth we found occurred in states that have recently introduced laws that claim to protect fetuses, even at the expense of the woman bearing them.

For example, miscarriage in Texas is treated differently if it does not happen behind bars.

Last year, Dallas police swarmed a high school after a fetus was found in a toilet. They launched an investigation, reviewing video footage and interviewing teachers to find the “suspect.”

But two years earlier, no such attention was given to the case of Autumn Miller, who in the summer of 2012 miscarried into a toilet while serving a one-year sentence at the Dawson State Jail, also in Dallas.

Miller, who in pictures has light brown hair and a warm smile full of straight, white teeth, was already the mother of three children. She had entered the jail in February, after violating probation on a drug possession charge, not realizing she was pregnant.

Throughout May and June, Miller complained of cramps and fatigue, and requested a pregnancy test and Pap smear. She never received either from the jail.

On the night of June 14, Miller began bleeding, and experiencing pain so severe that she couldn’t walk, according to a lawsuit filed against the Corrections Corporation of America. Miller told guards she felt like she was having a baby.

Guards brought her to a medical unit where a nurse waited on a telescreen (like the jail in Kankakee, there was no full-time medical staff on-site). But Miller could barely explain what was happening before a guard turned off the screen, handed her a menstrual pad, and locked her in a segregated cell.

Screaming, Miller gave birth into a toilet. She was then handcuffed, shackled, and transported to the hospital separately from her newborn. Miller named the infant Gracie Robinson; she barely weighed a pound. Gracie died four days later.

“They had her locked in a cell down in the medical area, all by herself, when she was laboring, unbeknownst to her,” Miller’s lawyer, Paula Sweeney, told RH Reality Check. “Then they couldn’t find the key to get the door open when it became apparent what was going on. Then, as she’s laying there on the cot, with blood everywhere, in terror and agony, the male guards start taking pictures with their cellphones.”

Miller’s case was settled in January 2014, and the facility that housed her has since been shut down because of budget cuts as well as increased scrutiny about what was going on behind the prison walls.

“Texas runs around bragging about the sanctity of human life, until you get a chance to see it in real life,” Miller’s lawyer told us. “Sanctity of life in Texas looks like this.”

No Role for Prosecutors in Prenatal Care

Experts have a wide range of recommendations to improve pregnancy care in prisons and jails, including laws that require tracking and reporting pregnancy outcomes, the elimination of solitary confinement for pregnant prisoners, and an increase in inmates’ access to OB-GYNs.

In Texas, a coalition of groups, including the Texas Jail Project and the ACLU of Texas, is pushing for a bill that would mandate tracking of prenatal care and treatment of pregnant prisoners in the state’s approximately 250 county jails.

The bill has caused unease among some women’s advocates, however, because of fears that gathering data on pregnant inmates could lead to more punitive action by the state.

“There is legitimate fear from legislators that are interested in doing this kind of tracking that those numbers will be used to punish pregnant women for drug use,” Mathew Simpson, policy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, told RH Reality Check. “When it comes down to it, if we don’t know the birth outcomes, we can’t make an assessment of where the gaps are.”

The broader picture, however, is that jails and prisons are generally the wrong place to house pregnant women, given that they frequently lack the appropriate staff or facilities, and are fundamentally geared toward punishment, not care.

“Judges and prosecutors think that it’s a good idea to empower jail guards—whose job is to punish criminals—to give prenatal care,” Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told RH Reality Check. “There has to be a very clear consensus that there is no role for prosecutors to be involved in prenatal care.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Deprived of Care, Incarcerated Women Suffer Miscarriages, Stillbirths, Ectopic Pregnancies appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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It Is All Too Easy for Pregnant Women To Be Put on Trial in the United States

RH Reality Check - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 12:45

Read more of our articles on the Purvi Patel case here. 

On Monday, the State of Indiana sentenced Purvi Patel to 41 years in prison for feticide and neglect of a dependent for experiencing a pregnancy loss; the concurrent charges mean Patel will serve 20 years. Recently, similar cases in other countries where abortion is illegal have garnered much public attention; however, Patel’s fate is a glaring reminder of the fact that abortion’s legal status in the United States does not mean such prosecutions can’t happen here.

A team of United Nations human rights experts congratulated El Salvador earlier this year for its decision to pardon Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana after she served six years of a 30-year prison sentence for experiencing a stillbirth. Vásquez was 18 years old when she became pregnant as a result of a rape. When she delivered a stillborn infant and sought medical help for heavy bleeding, Vásquez was interrogated by police, who believed she had caused the stillbirth. She was charged with procuring an abortion, which is illegal in all circumstances in El Salvador. Prosecutors later changed the charge to aggravated homicide after insisting that she had given birth to a live infant. Activists from Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto described the weak case against her to the Independent: “The evidence is that there is a dead baby, a woman, and the forensic evidence establishes they are mother and child. That’s it.” On January 21, the government issued her a pardon.

Calling the decision to pardon Vásquez a reversal of “an appallingly unfair sentence,” the UN experts urged El Salvador to review the cases of 16 other women, known along with Vásquez as Las 17, imprisoned with sentences of up to 40 years because they were accused of having abortions after seeking medical help for miscarriages or stillbirths. Another one of Las 17, known as “Mirna,” was released last December after completing her 12-and-a-half year prison term.

During the same week Vásquez was pardoned in El Salvador, Purvi Patel sat in a courtroom in South Bend, Indiana, and waited for a jury to decide her fate. In July 2013, Patel presented to the emergency room of St. Joseph’s Hospital in nearby Mishawaka, bleeding after an apparent miscarriage. Almost immediately, her request for emergency health care triggered a criminal investigation against her. She told health-care workers that she had miscarried, but did not bring the fetal remains with her—she had disposed of them in a trash bin. Questioning whether Patel had really miscarried or delivered a full-term baby, hospital staff contacted law enforcement. One of the hospital physicians even rushed to participate in the search for the remains.

But despite intensive investigation, many questions remained unanswered, including how far along Patel was in her pregnancy. Throughout, Patel has maintained that she experienced a stillbirth. What the investigation did reveal, however, was that Patel had texted with a friend about her ambivalence toward her pregnancy. With these texts as key “evidence,” Indiana prosecutors charged Patel with two seemingly mutually exclusive crimes: neglect of a dependent for allegedly giving birth to and abandoning a live newborn, and feticide for allegedly “knowingly terminat[ing] … her own pregnancy by ingesting medication.” Each charge is punishable by decades behind bars.

The proceedings against Patel are a grim parallel to the cases against Las 17: They reveal what the future looks like if pregnancy outcomes, including abortions, are the subject of criminal investigations in the United States. Patel’s private conversations and emotional reactions to pregnancy loss underwent public scrutiny: All of her text messages became part of the investigation and the subsequent trial. Courtroom spectators also described the stigmatizing and sexist claims prosecutors made to suggest Patel’s guilt, in place of actual evidence. For instance, prosecutors tried to make her seem uncaring by describing her as being “distracted” in the emergency room as she texted her best friend for support, and made much of the fact that she did not cry at that time. As Sue Ellen Braunlin of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice tweeted: “Just sayin’ — If you have a miscarriage in Indiana, you better cry real tears. And Do. Not. Text.”

Not only were Patel’s demeanor and affect put on the stand, but, as in many other criminal cases involving pregnancy, junk science was presented as credible evidence in support of the state’s “neglect of a dependent” narrative. This argument was that Patel attempted to terminate her own pregnancy, failed, and then delivered a baby who was born alive and then allowed to die. To support their claim that the baby was born alive, the state relied on the “lung float test”—the very same discredited test used to put many of Las 17 behind bars. These tactics, among others, made the state’s case eerily reminiscent of witch trials from centuries back. Yet, with disproved science and speculations based on Patel’s demeanor as the only evidence, the Indiana jury convicted her.

In addition to the paucity of credible scientific evidence, the prosecutions in Indiana and El Salvador share another trait: a blatant attempt to conflate abortion with murder, even if the occurrence of the abortion itself is in question. This has long been the goal of abortion opponents in the United States. It is also reflected in “fetal assault” laws that criminalize pregnant women and the ongoing but thus far unsuccessful attempts to add personhood amendments to state constitutions. When pregnant women’s rights—to privacy, to medical care, to abortion—are under attack, any woman who experiences a loss, even at the earliest weeks in pregnancy, could become a murderer in the eyes of the law. If Patel’s conviction is upheld on appeal, many more women like Purvi Patel and Guadalupe Vásquez can expect police at their bedside when they seek help.

While the arrests in El Salvador stem from that nation’s total ban on abortion, Indiana shows us that a government need not make the procedure illegal to cause devastation to the lives and health of women who find themselves pregnant. Vásquez’s pardon in El Salvador may be a turning point in that country’s record of punishing women for abortions and pregnancy loss; Patel’s conviction should be a wake-up call to people in the United States that it is all too easy for a pregnant woman to find herself on trial.

Image: Shutterstock

The post It Is All Too Easy for Pregnant Women To Be Put on Trial in the United States appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Purvi Patel Sentenced to 41 Years for Feticide and Neglect of a Dependent

RH Reality Check - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 12:35

Read more of our articles on the Purvi Patel case here.

Purvi Patel was sentenced Monday to 41 years in prison on charges of feticide and felony neglect of a dependent after an Indiana jury in early February found her guilty of the charges. She was ordered to serve 20 years in prison after receiving a 30-year sentence on the felony neglect charge, with an additional ten years suspended.

Patel received a six-year sentence on the feticide charge, but that will be served concurrently with the 20-year sentence. She will spend five years on probation when she is released from prison.

Patel in July 2013 went to a hospital emergency room suffering from heavy vaginal bleeding. She denied that she had been pregnant, but eventually told doctors that she had miscarried and placed the stillborn fetus in a bag and placed the bag in a dumpster.

Police questioned Patel without a lawyer present while she was in the hospital. Police also searched the text messages in Patel’s phone, which prosecutors claim revealed that she had communicated to a friend that she was pregnant and had purchased drugs online to terminate the pregnancy. Patel, who is Indian-American, lived in a conservative Hindu household in which it was expected that she would not engage in premarital sex, and wanted to keep the pregnancy a secret from her parents.

In order to support the contradictory charges of feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, the state was required to prove that Patel both “knowingly or intentionally” terminated her pregnancy “with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus,” and that she neglected a dependent.

A charge of feticide requires a dead fetus, while a charge of neglect of a dependent requires a live birth.

The state argued that Patel took drugs to induce a miscarriage but that instead of miscarrying, she delivered a live fetus that she subsequently abandoned.

Over the course of the seven-day trial, prosecutors failed to introduce any evidence that Patel ingested the drugs the prosecution claimed she ordered. The state’s own toxicologist, Dr. Prentice Jones, Jr., admitted that he couldn’t find any evidence of abortifacients in Patel’s system.

State prosecutors failed to introduce scientifically rigorous evidence to support the felony neglect charge, which requires proof that Patel’s fetus had been born alive.

To support that charge, the state’s forensic pathologist, Joseph Prahlow, used a discredited “float test,” which tests for air in the lungs. Float tests are not widely accepted in the scientific community as a proper method for establishing whether a fetus was born alive.

Witnesses at trial could not agree on the fetus’s gestational age. Prosecutors and state experts claimed that Patel’s fetus was 25 to 28 weeks’ gestation. Patel’s best friend, however, testified that Patel, who did not take the stand in her own defense, believed she was about two months pregnant.

Patel is the second pregnant person in Indiana to be charged under Indiana’s feticide law, and the first person to be charged, convicted, and sentenced for the crime of feticide in the United States. Another Indiana woman, Bei Bei Shuai, was charged for the crime of feticide after she attempted to commit suicide when she was eight months pregnant.

Shuai survived, but her daughter did not. The feticide charge against Shuai was ultimately dropped after Shuai accepted a plea deal of criminal recklessness, a Class D misdemeanor.

Advocates for pregnant people decried Patel’s conviction. Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told RH Reality Check that Patel’s conviction does not bode well for pregnant people in the United States.

“Since states tend to copy one another, we can expect that attempts to punish pregnant women will increase in other states, and that women in Indiana who take steps to end their own pregnancies, experience pregnancy losses, or are unable to guarantee a healthy birth outcome will rightly fear that a criminal investigation and arrest will follow, “ Paltrow said.

“The prosecution, conviction, and cruel length of the sentence confirms that feticide and other measures promoted by anti-abortion organizations are intended to punish, not protect, women,” she added.

Patel plans to appeal her conviction, according to local outlet 95.3 MNC, and has 30 days to do so.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Purvi Patel Sentenced to 41 Years for Feticide and Neglect of a Dependent appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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Women, Incarcerated: Investigative Series Shows Systemic Abuses of Women in Prisons and Jails

RH Reality Check - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 09:03

Keeley Schenwar learned she was pregnant the same day she was arrested. That spring of 2013, she didn’t pee on a stick and study the results in the bathroom; there was no moment of elation. Instead, a nurse at the Cook County Jail in Chicago led Schenwar to a separate part of the facility, away from the other women. When Schenwar asked why, the nurse broke the news.

Schenwar, who was just 23 at the time, with warm brown eyes and glossy black hair, barely knew what to say. She had been struggling with a heroin addiction for more than five years. For the second time, she’d been caught stealing from a Walgreens—medicines, makeup, razors—anything she could sell to local corner stores to scramble together the $400 or $500 she needed to pay for her addiction.

She’d been in and out of county jails for years, but this time she was headed to state prison, and she was pregnant.

“I cried,” she told RH Reality Check. “I didn’t want to tell anyone I was in jail. I didn’t want to tell anyone I was pregnant.”

Over the course of her incarceration, Schenwar experienced two instances of human rights abuses linked to her pregnancy. She also joined the ranks of a growing group in the United States: women who are incarcerated.

While women make up a small share of all those detained in local, state, and federal prisons and jails, their numbers are growing. The number of women in state and federal prisons jumped by 646 percent between 1980 and 2012—from around 25,000 to more than 200,000—one-and-a-half times the speed at which the incarceration for men increased during the same period. In 2012, more than 200,000 women were held in prisons or jails, according to the Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based nonprofit group that has tracked these issues for more than 25 years.

The surge in incarceration disproportionately affects women of color, according to the Sentencing Project. In 2010, Black women were incarcerated at nearly three times the rate of white women (133 versus 47 per 100,000), while Hispanic women were incarcerated at 1.6 times the rate of white women.

Experts told RH Reality Check that, because corrections systems were created with men in mind, the facilities, practices, and policies remain ill-suited to the particular needs of women behind bars.

“There’s been a tremendous neglect of incarcerated women’s medical needs because, overall, they’re a small proportion of the incarcerated population: 9 percent of prisons, and 11 percent of jails,” said Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University.

In fact, federal, state, and local officials charged with overseeing corrections facilities collect virtually no consistent data about how women are treated in a system made for men, RH Reality Check found in a five-month investigation. This week, we will publish a collection of stories based on that reporting.

The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, when asked for a national count of corrections facilities that house women, could only provide RH Reality Check with data that was a decade old. It showed that in 2005, there were a total of 1,821 state, federal, and privately run facilities, of which 187 facilities were authorized to hold only female inmates, and 276 were authorized to house both males and females.

The dearth of information points to the invisibility of, and lack of concern for, incarcerated women, experts told RH Reality Check, and makes it difficult to determine how often abuses occur.

In our Women, Incarcerated series, we have detailed some of the major themes that emerged from our review of hundreds of lawsuits, public records requests, and interviews with experts, public officials, and currently and formerly incarcerated women.

Our findings show the existence of deep, systemic problems in the way that the criminal justice system deals with women.

While some of the egregious abuses of incarcerated women are well known—shackling of pregnant women, and rampant sexual abuse in some facilities—RH Reality Check has identified a host of other problems that receive virtually no attention from mainstream media.

The problems include substandard conditions for pregnant prisoners; widespread failure to provide treatment or medical care for women with drug dependency, who comprise the overwhelming majority of women inmates; frequent denial of care for women experiencing miscarriage; forced induction of birth; and, ultimately, the termination of women’s parental rights because of rigid federal and state laws ostensibly intended to protect children. Articles later this week will delve deeper into these issues.

Like Schenwar, the majority of women behind bars are of reproductive age (the median age of incarcerated women in the United States is 34) and more than four-fifths suffer a serious substance abuse disorder, often related to prior trauma. The vast majority—84 percent—are behind bars for non-violent crimes, usually related to their drug dependency or social marginalization, according to a 2012 report for the Bureau of Justice Assistance that surveyed nearly 500 inmates in urban and rural jails in multiple states—one of the very few national studies of incarcerated women.

In other words, for women, incarceration frequently amounts to punishment for poverty, mental illness, addiction, and abuse, experts said.

“We’ve seen a skyrocket in the prison population overall, and women have increased faster than men,” Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, told RH Reality Check. “That’s a direct result of the fact that so many low-level offenders end up in prison or jail where previously they may have been diverted into the community, or had access to mental health care.”

Schenwar’s story is representative of many women’s experience in incarceration. In this first part of our Women, Incarcerated series, we focus on Schenwar’s prison time—which involved a high-risk pregnancy, forced induced labor, and shackling—to illustrate the problems that thousands of women face behind bars.

Inadequate Food, Conditions for Pregnant Inmates

As with many women who are incarcerated, Schenwar’s crimes were related to her drug dependency.

Her criminal record shows arrests for thefts, trespassing, a DUI, and parole violations. Schenwar was living with her boyfriend at the time she was arrested, and he too was struggling with heroin.

Keeley Schenwar and her daughter.

After finding out that she was pregnant, Schenwar hoped to avoid going to prison. She reasoned that the judge would go light on her, due to her condition, and allow her to do community service. Instead, she was sentenced to a year at the Logan Correctional Center, a place where inmates wear blue and white, but pregnant prisoners wear pink. Apart from that, the facility makes few accommodations for pregnant prisoners.

Even something as basic as food posed problems. In her four months of pregnancy during incarceration, Schenwar recalls being hungry “all the time.”

“When you’re pregnant, you want to eat,” Schenwar told RH Reality Check. “It wasn’t like I expected my craving foods to be delivered to my cell,” she said, but she needed more than the extra apple or egg and carton of milk that were provided to pregnant inmates every day.

She also recalls that pregnant women, like all prisoners, had to walk through the open yard to access the mess hall, whether it was snowing or brutally hot.

The failure of corrections facilities to provide adequate food for pregnant prisoners emerged as a pattern across many states, our research found. Most recently, the Correctional Association of New York released a damning report, based on five years of interviews and legal research, revealing that New York’s state facilities were also failing to provide sufficient food and acceptable living conditions for pregnant inmates. And Diana Claitor, executive director of the Texas Jail Project, told us that the lack of plentiful, healthy food is a frequent problem for pregnant inmates in Texas as well.

Despite the inadequate food and conditions, Schenwar says she received good medical care while she was incarcerated. She recalls regular visits to an OB-GYN, and frequent ultrasounds. In fact, for many pregnant people inmates, incarceration affords them the first opportunity to receive prenatal care.

Schenwar is quick to explain that she wasn’t seeking sympathy. But she says that the guards reacted to her requests, and those of other pregnant prisoners, with demeaning comments.

“The officers judged us constantly,” she said. “If you would complain, they would say, ‘You put yourself here. You were doing drugs and pregnant. I don’t feel bad for you.’”

While at the prison, Schenwar maintained her use of methadone, as prescribed by her doctor. Abruptly ceasing opioid use is extremely dangerous during pregnancy, as it can lead to miscarriage. However, Schenwar’s methadone use created an unexpected complication: It disqualified her from transferring to the Decatur Facility, which has a nationally recognized prison nursery program that allows inmates to stay with their babies for the first year of their lives. So Schenwar knew that she would be separated from her daughter as soon as she gave birth.

“You’re Not Going to ‘Fall Out’ in My Yard”—Forced Induction of Labor in Illinois prisons

What most upset Schenwar was the prison’s decision to induce her labor when she did not want to be induced—an act that constitutes a human rights violation, experts told RH Reality Check.

At 5 a.m. in early September, Schenwar was on her way to the mess hall with the other prisoners.

“Schenwar, fall back,” she recalls one of the guards saying, as she walked behind the other inmates heading to breakfast.

Two weeks earlier, the prison doctor had informed Schenwar that her delivery would be induced. Schenwar had tried to object, saying that her baby was not ready to be born, and that she wanted to wait until her labor started naturally. Inducing labor can be risky for mothers and their babies. Studies have shown induction to be associated with higher rates of cesarean sections, longer stays in the hospital, and greater blood loss for women giving birth.

But, Schenwar says, the doctor made it clear that she did not have a choice, and when she still objected, she says the doctor called prison guards.

“I had three, maybe four, guards surrounding me saying, ‘I don’t know where you think you are. This is our prison. … You’re not going to fall out in my yard or in the mess hall and cause some kind of chaos,’” she said. “I was scared and I was having a baby and I was in prison. I went back to my cell and I cried, because I knew I would be alone.”

So, when guards told Schenwar to fall back, she thought she was in trouble. But instead guards told her it was time to give birth.

“They explained that because I was being induced that day, which I did not know, they said I could not eat,” she recalled in an interview with RH Reality Check.

When RH Reality Check first sought comment from the Illinois Department of Corrections in relation to Schenwar’s allegation of forced induction, Tom Shaer, who was then the director of communications, did not reply to our specific questions, but wrote in an email, “Inmate anecdotes are often either wholly inaccurate or grossly exaggerated. Not always, but often.”

This notion—that prisoners, and especially women prisoners, are liars—permeates the dozens of cases we reviewed where prisoners suffered miscarriages, still-births, and even deaths. (These cases are detailed in future articles in the Women, Incarcerated series.) While there are undoubtedly instances of false allegations, time and again prisoner’s allegations have been borne out in litigation and federal investigations.

Shaer has since left the department, and his replacement, Nicole Wilson, told us in an email that induced births are an “option” for prisoners:

Pregnant inmates consult with their physician on nutrition and birthing options to make decisions that best meet each individuals’ needs.  Offenders whose pregnancies are deemed high risk are encouraged to elect induction so they can be transferred to Bloomington where the hospital can meet their specific needs for a safe delivery. [sic]

In a later email, Wilson changed her stance, saying instead that Schenwar’s methadone treatment meant she was deemed to be a high-risk patient, and that the “decision to induce would have been made by the OB/GYN and would have been made for the benefit of both mother and baby.”

Wilson said that Schenwar had not signed a “refusal of treatment,” which, Wilson said, was offered to prisoners who did not want their births induced.

However, RH Reality Check was able to speak with Kendra Smith, who was also pregnant while incarcerated at Logan. Smith recounted that guards also tried to force her to induce her delivery, but she resisted, involving the warden and the prison’s family services officer. Smith said she recalled similar pressure being put on a third pregnant prisoner incarcerated at Logan.

According to Gail Smith, founder of Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), the Illinois Department of Corrections seems to have initiated a practice of requiring incarcerated women to have induced labor.

“Every woman that I have spoken with after release who has given birth inside in the past year has been induced,” Smith told RH Reality Check.

In a close examination of cases involving the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women, RH Reality Check found hints that induction may be a standard practice at corrections facilities in other states as well.

Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told RH Reality Check that forced induced labor constitute clear human rights violations of pregnant prisoners.

“Any forced induced labor is a human rights violation, even if the pregnant person isn’t incarcerated, because people have a fundamental human right to bodily integrity and to refuse unwanted medical intervention,” she said.

Diaz-Tello said that the stories from Illinois are consistent with what her organization has been hearing from other states. For instance, she said that she had worked with a Texas woman who was forced to undergo a caesarian section while incarcerated, because the doctor was only scheduled to be at the facility for one day.

“The fact that it is happening in prison, where people are even more deprived of power than in a medical institution—that makes it even worse,” Diaz-Tello said.

“All Female Inmates Are an Escape Threat”

In addition to the forced induction, Schenwar described a lonely and traumatic labor, during which she was shackled to the hospital bed.

“There’s a guard on the couch reading magazines as your whole life is torn apart,” she said. “They don’t let any family come. After you have the baby, they shackle you to the bed at their discretion. You hold your baby and then they take her and you go back to prison.”

At the time, Illinois still had an official policy that allowed prisoners to be shackled as soon as they were “no longer pregnant,” said Wilson, the corrections department’s spokesperson. That policy was changed in November 2013 so that “inmates who’d recently delivered a child could also go unrestrained for a pre-determined period of time.”

Despite media attention to the issue, shackling of pregnant inmates remains common, with the majority of states still permitting the barbaric practice. Even in states where shackling is theoretically banned, locals activists and incarcerated women say legal loopholes mean that many pregnant inmates still find themselves bound in metal chains during transportation to the hospital, and after birth.

For instance, the 2009 law that barred the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in Texas contains an exception for women deemed to be a flight risk, but doesn’t define what exactly that means.

At a 2012 meeting of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, a commissioner “spoke publicly about his belief that all female inmates are an escape threat and that therefore the exception to the bar on use of restraints would always apply,” according to a letter drafted to the commission’s chairwoman by then-state Sen. Wendy Davis. (RH Reality Check obtained a draft of the email.)

In other words, even women in active labor and birth should be seen as escape threats.

Diana Claitor of the Texas Jails Project told RH Reality Check that better monitoring of each incident of shackling is required to ensure the law is being properly enforced.

The emotional impact of shackling, including post-partum depression, can be profound, Claitor said.

“You suddenly feel yourself in the position of being rolled around like a piece of garbage chained to a table, and the other women there [at the hospital] shrink away in horror that you’re some kind of crazed animal that has to be shackled.”

The experience of being pregnant in prison, forcibly induced, and ultimately shackled during delivery certainly left Schenwar with a sense of shame.

Her journal from October of that year—a month after her daughter was born—shows the young woman’s regret at the situation she was in.

“You held my hand just a few hours after I gave birth, wrapped your fingers tightly around my thumb and I knew as you focused your eyes on mine without turning away that I’d love you in every way, each day for the rest of eternity,” Schenwar wrote. “I tried not to sleep, knowing we only had a short time together. Shackles tied my ankles to the hospital bed. You’re the daughter of a prisoner, twice convicted felon, all result of a heroin conviction.”

“I’ll spend the rest of my life making this up to you,” she wrote.

Schenwar was released from prison in 2014, and is now sober. She is successfully caring for her daughter, as well as working with other mothers who have recently been released from prison or jail.

“Just because you’ve been to prison three or five times, doesn’t mean you have to go back,” she said. “People get past it, and they have careers and they have lives and they have families.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Women, Incarcerated: Investigative Series Shows Systemic Abuses of Women in Prisons and Jails appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Kenya High Court Finds Criminalizing HIV and AIDS Transmission Unconstitutional

Center for Reproductive Rights - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 23:00
Kenya High Court Finds Criminalizing HIV and AIDS Transmission Unconstitutional Judges rule provisions of HIV law threaten human rights of Kenyans, violate citizens’ privacy rights and discriminate against pregnant women

03.30.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Key provisions of a law criminalizing the transmission of HIV in an effort to curb spread of the disease in Kenya are unconstitutional and violate fundamental human rights, according to a recent landmark ruling from the High Court of Kenya. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed an amicus brief in support of the case brought by AIDS Law Project in 2010.

While the “HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, No.14 of 2006” (“HIV/AIDS Act”) codifies measures for treatment, counseling, care and support of people living with HIV—it contains troubling provisions that criminalize the transmission of HIV in certain instances and permit partner disclosure of HIV/AIDS status by health care workers. The law also discriminates against women, who are often subject to coercive practices and violations of informed consent and confidentiality when testing for HIV, particularly during pregnancy.

In its decision issued on March 18, the three-judge panel ruled Section 24 of the HIV/AIDS Act which criminalized transmission of HIV was unconstitutional under the Kenyan Constitution, as the provisions are too vague and that disclosing patients’ HIV status violates their rights to privacy and confidentiality. The judges also advised the State Law Office to review the HIV/AIDS Act to “avoid further litigation” surrounding the law.

Said Evelyne Opondo, regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“All people are entitled to quality health services—regardless of their HIV status or other health needs.

“This law has inflicted fear, shame, and punishment on countless Kenyans, especially pregnant women who desperately need and deserve quality maternal health care.

“We commend the High Court for finding the criminalization of HIV transmission as unconstitutional and a violation of Kenyans’ fundamental human rights. Now is the time for the Kenya government to immediately amend this legislation and ensure people living with HIV can get the care they need without fear of discrimination or criminalization.”

“We must ensure people living with HIV receive the proper medical care and support that they need,” said Jacinta Nyachae, Executive Director of the AIDS Law Project. “If we want to reduce the spread HIV and AIDS and put an end to the stigma, violence and discrimination surrounding the disease, our public policies must be based on medical evidence and grounded in human rights.”

In 2011, the Center for Reproductive Rights submitted an amicus brief in the AIDS Law Project v. Attorney General & Director of Public Prosecutions (Petition No. 97, 2010), challenging the constitutionality of the law. The Center claimed that the HIV law could be interpreted to criminalize women living with HIV who expose or transmit the virus to a child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. The Center argued that criminalizing HIV exposure and transmission does not protect women from transmission, but instead exacerbates existing stigma and discrimination against women, exposing them to risk of prosecution. The Center’s brief also recommended the law’s provisions permitting partner disclosure of HIV status be quashed.

A 2008 joint report by the Center and FIDA Kenya found that Kenyan women seeking maternal care in health care facilities were subjected to HIV testing without their knowledge or consent, or being forced to submit to an HIV test—actions that deepen the stigma of HIV and AIDS, and discriminate and discourage women from seeking essential health care.

Cases of discrimination against pregnant women living with HIV have occurred in many parts of the world, including Namibia where 15 women living with HIV were sterilized without their consent and brought a complaint against the government in 2012. Five women in Uganda were murdered in 2008 by their husbands after the men learned about their wives’ HIV-positive status. In 2009, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo brought a case against Chile before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of F.S., a Chilean woman living with HIV who at age 20 was sterilized during delivery without her knowledge or consent. Her case is still pending before the Commission. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights has been documenting reproductive rights violations against women in health care settings in Kenya for close to a decade. The Center and FIDA Kenya collaborated on two reports, Failure to Deliver and At Risk, which documented women’s experiences seeking reproductive health care and highlighted the need to strengthen the Kenyan health care system and ensure adequate protection of patients’ rights.  

Forcibly Sterilized Woman Files International Case against Chile Failure to Deliver: Violations of Women's Human Rights in Kenyan Health Facilities At Risk: Rights Violations of HIV-Positive Women in Kenyan Health Facilities

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