Policies to Roll Back Abortion Rights Will Hit Prisoners Especially Hard

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Policies governing abortion and reproductive health care services in US prisons and jails were restrictive and often hostile even before the Supreme Court eliminated Roe vs. Wadeconstitutional protections for abortions. After the June ruling, many reproductive services will be banned altogether, putting the health of incarcerated women who are pregnant at risk.

That threat is particularly urgent in states where lawmakers have made clear their intentions to roll back abortion rights.

“Previously there was at least some legal recourse for an incarcerated person, but that no longer exists for people who live in states where abortion is or will be severely restricted or illegal,” said Dr. Carolyn SufferinOB/GYN, professor and director of the Incarcerated Reproductive Wellbeing Research and Advocacy Program at Johns Hopkins University.

The Northern Rockies and Upper Midwest regions are home to some of the states with the highest rates of women incarcerated in the country. According to 2020 data from the Sentences ProjectIdaho has the highest incarceration rate (110 women per 100,000 adult female residents) of any state, closely followed by South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, whose rates are more than double the national average.

Nationwide, women make up a growing portion of the prison and prison population. From 1980 to 2020, the number of women incarcerated grew almost five times.

State and federal prisons do not reliably track or report the number of incarcerated people who are pregnant. The Prison Policy Projecta nonprofit research organization, estimates that about 58,000 people a year are pregnant when they enter prison or jail, or about 4% of the total number of women in state and federal prisons and 3% of those in jail. in local jails.

The quality of pregnancy care available to the incarcerated population varies greatly, not only by state but also between facilities. That is due to a lack of universal standards and a variety of approaches by the authorities that govern jails and prisons, as well as the different health services that are provided, he said. Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “There is too little room for accountability and too much room for discretion.”

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Sufrin was co-author of a study published in August 2021 which surveyed pregnancy outcomes in 22 state prison systems, all Federal Bureau of Prisons sites, and six county jails. It found that only half of the state prisons surveyed allowed first- and second-trimester abortions, and 14% prohibited it altogether.

Other facilities, including some within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that nominally require access to abortion and adequate prenatal and postnatal care during pregnancy, often made abortion services and maternal health care virtually inaccessible.

Those with written policies had barriers that included distance from abortion providers, delays in treatment until abortion was no longer legal, and requirements for the pregnant woman to pay for the cost of the abortion and sometimes transportation to and from abortion. and from a clinic, according to academics and advocates. Other facilities did not have a formal written policy and instead left a person’s care to the discretion of the prison or jail.

Julia Arroyo of Young Women’s Freedom Center, a criminal justice reform advocacy organization, was pregnant while incarcerated. “Access to reproductive health is very difficult on the inside,” she said, adding that women are often made to feel like they are harmed or difficult simply for seeking treatment.

“When I was pregnant and in jail, they never asked me what I wanted to do with my pregnancy,” she said.

Sufrin’s research found that prison facilities in states she characterized as “unfriendly” to abortion are more likely to make abortion access nearly impossible. Several states, including South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho, have already banned most abortions or are in the process of implementing harsh restrictions on abortion.

South Dakota activation law the ban on most abortions went into effect immediately after the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision.

An abortion ban set to go into effect in Wyoming on July 27 but it was temporarily blocked by a judge makes the procedure illegal except in cases of incest or rape or to protect the life of the mother.

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Idaho’s activation ban, which is scheduled to go into effect on August 25 but it is also being challenged in court, it would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. It also criminalizes anyone who provides such treatment.

The Wyoming Department of Corrections declined to comment, and Idaho officials did not respond to questions about how their state’s new abortion ban, which is facing challenges in court, would affect incarcerated people. However, experts suspect that statewide bans would likely worsen access in county prisons and jails.

In Montana, abortions are protected by a 1999 state Supreme Court ruling that the Montana Constitution’s right to privacy provision extends to a person’s medical decisions. Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, is asking the state’s top court to overturn that ruling, and Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has said he would consider calling a special session to consider anti-abortion legislation if lawmakers had a plan he would pass. judicial review. . The next regular session is in January, and Republican lawmakers say they intend a explore new ways to reverse that protection.

Montana Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alexandria Klapmeier said in an email that all facilities “meet the standards of care for inmates as required by law, including prenatal care, which is at or above the level of attention they would receive if they were not incarcerated.”

However, Klapmeier declined to comment further on how the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization would influence the agency’s abortion policies or offer details about treatment and protocols. Recently, in 2019, ACLU Montana released a report that found that the state does not ensure that incarcerated pregnant people have access to routine prenatal care.

Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities must provide access to abortion as well as other reproductive health care services. However, they are not required to pay for procedures or transportation to a clinic, which means that many women do not pay for treatment.

The federal prison system and most states require some form of co-payment from inmates for medical services, although California and Illinois have reversed their policies, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Even states without copay policies can require inmates to pay for medical costs. mountain, for example, says an inmate is responsible for costs associated with pre-existing conditions and self-inflicted or other injuries.

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There are no federal prisons in Montana, Wyoming, or Idaho. The closest ones in the region include six in Colorado, two in Oregon and one in Washington, all states that have laws protecting access to abortion. The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on how dobbs would affect policies.

Sufrin said he feared a “chilling effect” from the dobbs decision on essential pregnancy care for prisoners. That includes the treatment of miscarriages, which many experts say often mirrors abortion protocols. Doctors and other health care providers have raised concerns that without such treatment, women’s lives could be at risk, as medical professionals are nervous about how their actions could violate state bans on abortion.

Forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term while incarcerated could result in great trauma to the mother, according to multiple experts, as well as compromise the care of the child. Forcing anyone to carry a pregnancy to term can make it harder for a person to escape poverty and derail life plans, and a forced pregnancy behind bars has even greater punitive consequences, Kolbi-Molinas said.

Although federal law prohibits the use of shackles for pregnant women who give birth in federal prisons, some states, including Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, do not have laws prohibiting the practice, and prison officials have been accused of using restraints on women in the delivery room in the past.

Imprisoned women are often forced to give birth unaccompanied, and once the baby is born, it is usually taken immediately and housed with a family member or, when one is not available, placed in the foster care system.

“It violates all the principles of reproductive justice,” Sufrin said. “They have no right to choose to have children and they have no right to be parents.”

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