Prisons as Sites of Reproductive Injustice
Date:  05-01-2017

Report focuses on several barriers to reproductive justice women who are incarcerated face
From Center for Women’s Policy Studies:

“I knew when you went to jail you gave up some rights, but the rights over your own body?” – Pamela Forney, imprisoned in Pasco County, Florida.

During the past 30 years, prisons have become increasingly significant arenas of conflict over women’s bodies and women’s rights. As a strict system of physical confinement and punishment, imprisonment has unique institutional characteristics, and yet it also provides a microcosm of reproductive politics. Nowhere is race and class stratification more evident than in the criminal justice and prison systems, where poor women and men of color are dramatically overrepresented relative to their numbers in society. And prisons are one place where the metaphor of “choice” is sorely inadequate to describe what is at stake in political struggles over reproduction. A pregnant woman in prison cannot choose between a midwife and a doctor; she cannot even choose who will be in the room with her when she gives birth.

Every dimension of reproductive justice is negatively affected by imprisonment – from access to abortion and basic medical care to maintain one’s health and fertility to the ability to form and maintain relationships with one’s children. Medical neglect in prisons and the erosion of parental rights both fit into a long history of reproductive oppression suffered by poor women and women of color, including the sale of children under slavery, the forced removal of Native children to government boarding schools, restrictive immigration policies, sterilization abuse, bans on public funding for abortion, and punitive welfare policies.

This paper explores prisons as sites of reproductive injustice by focusing on barriers to abortion and safe childbirth. After defining the concept of reproductive justice, the paper reviews the limits of the constitutional right to medical care in prison and the racial and class biases that characterize the criminal justice and prison systems. It then examines barriers to abortion care and pregnancy care to show that institutional resistance to abortion is not the result of a commitment to healthy pregnancy and childbirth. Rather, the failure to provide both forms of vital medical care is part of a widespread pattern of institutional neglect.

Research on reproductive abuses in prison presents a “tip of the iceberg” problem – we only know those instances that have come to light through the court system, the press, or primary research. Other instances have doubtless occurred because of the structural problems that limit access to health care in prison settings. Literally closed to the public, with no obligation to report on the outcomes of pregnant women in their custody, most jails and prisons operate without any meaningful oversight. This “fiefdom” scenario underscores both the constraints on documenting the full scope of abuse behind prison walls and also the need to do so. Continue reading >>