Though such practices violate international standards of practice and have now been banned in federal prisons, forty states still permit the use of shackles during the childbirth process. Thankfully, a handful are now moving to repeal that policy – due in large part to the activism of local organizations and individuals who understand the practice for what it is: an inhumane and unnecessary means of stigmatizing and shaming women in prison, the majority of whom, it’s important to note, have been jailed for non-violent offenses.
Ms. Foundation grantee SPARK Reproductive Justice Now! has spent more than two years researching and documenting the experiences of incarcerated pregnant women in the organization’s home state of Georgia – a state that does permit the shackling of pregnant women in its prisons. Detailing the conditions under which female prisoners in Georgia experience labor and delivery, Tonya Williams, a program director at SPARK writes on RH Reality Check,
…Incarcerated pregnant women across the state of Georgia have been and continue to be subjected to shackling by the wrists, ankles or around the belly on their way to the hospital, during labor and delivery and in recovery. Dehumanized, shamed by the visible signs of their bondage, and oftentimes unable to receive the holistic and essential pre- and postnatal care and nutrition needed, pregnant women in Georgia must confront a painful reality. They have become a part of the modern day chain gang.Williams’ article (which also highlights the work of Ms. Foundation grantee The Rebecca Project) is an important entry in the conversation about the rights of the incarcerated – and it offers a critical reminder that reproductive justice is about securing the right for all of us to “make sustainable and libratory decisions about [our] fertility, bodies, genders, sexualities, families and lives.” When women in state prisons are routinely physically restrained – against international convention and federal policy – during the most personal and intimate of human experiences, it becomes clear that the link between “reproduction” and “justice” has been badly broken. Organizations like SPARK, The Rebecca Project and another Ms. Foundation grantee, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, are hard at work crafting innovative solutions to problems like these; we applaud them for shining light on an often hidden segment of the fight for reproductive justice, and are proud to support their work.