The House of Representatives on Thursday passed the Pregnant Women in Custody Act, or HR 6878. There was nothing partisan about the bill—unless you think preventing incarcerated people who are eight months pregnant from being put in solitary confinement should be up for debate. And yet, 90 Republicans still voted against the legislation.
The bill establishes baseline care standards for federal facilities across the country, including prisons, which have very inconsistent policies concerning pregnant people’s rights. HR 6878 would also require prisons to provide pregnant incarcerated people with medical and mental health services, educate them on their parental rights, and evaluate whether someone’s pregnancy is high-risk. Further, the bill would ban prisons and the U.S. Marshal service from placing pregnant people in solitary confinement during their third trimester. This, in itself, is pretty eyebrow-raising; it’s better than nothing, but no pregnant person—or any person, really—should be in solitary confinement, period, regardless of when they’re due.
All of these seem like basic, extremely bare-minimum demands, especially for ostensibly “pro-life” GOP lawmakers who claim to care about protecting children and mothers. Nonetheless, among the 90 Republicans who voted against the bill were self-identified “pro-life” Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.). Gaetz is so committed to protecting “life,” mind you, that he routinely writes off reproductive rights activists off as unfuckable hags, while Cawthorn, an alleged sexual harasser, refers to women as “earthen vessels” for babies. I, for one, am shocked that these gentlemen have no issue essentially leaving incarcerated pregnant people for dead.
Incarcerated people already face a greater risk of pregnancy-related complications: Studies have shown they are twice as likely to suffer miscarriages as the general population. Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, a gynecology and obstetrics professor at Johns Hopkins, told NPR in 2019 that “solitary confinement is in no way, shape, or form something that a pregnant person should be placed in.” It can subject pregnant people to psychological trauma and higher risk of blood clots due to limited mobility, Sufrin said.
Wanda Bertram, a research analyst for the Prison Policy Initiative, told The 19th in October that “plenty of women that are in prison that are pregnant have not had a single prenatal or perinatal care visit with the doctor since their incarceration.”
Last month, among hundreds of formerly incarcerated women in New York moving to sue the state for sexual abuse they faced in prison, one woman recalled being impregnated by rape, placed in solitary confinement as punishment, and then transferred to a different prison and experiencing severe complications from an ectopic pregnancy. She lost five pints of blood and was left infertile.
Currently, against all medical guidance, several states still allow the shackling of pregnant incarcerated people. The American Medical Association calls this “a barbaric practice that needlessly inflicts excruciating pain and humiliation” and “increases their potential for physical harm from an accidental trip or fall,” which, obviously, “can negatively impact her pregnancy.”
Advocates for incarcerated pregnant people have also pointed out how pregnant people are endangered with virtually no access to abortion. Even before the fall of Roe v. Wade, most prisons made no effort to educate pregnant people about their rights to abortion and other related care, and required pregnant people seeking abortions to pay for both the the procedure and all associated costs—not just gas and transportation fees, but “officer time” for those their escorts.
The landscape around incarcerated pregnant people’s human rights is a nightmare, and if it were up to 90, supposedly “pro-life” House Republicans, these conditions would be even more dehumanizing.