The Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade, has placed pregnant incarcerated women in an extremely vulnerable position. In some states, they will be obligated to carry pregnancies to term while denied prenatal and medical care, The Appeal and Mother Jones reported.
According to the Advocacy and Research on Reproductive Wellness of Incarcerated People, an estimated 58,000 pregnant women, mostly of color and low-income, enter prison every year in the United States. Their experience is now going to change based on the state they live in, but those in which abortion is now illegal will no longer have the autonomy to choose to continue with their pregnancy or not. A 2021 Johns Hopkins study cited in Mother Jones stated that during a 12-month period in 2016 and 2017, “33 percent of non-miscarriage pregnancies within jails ended with abortions—while 18 percent of those in the free world did.” Furthermore, women on probation and parole, an estimated 200,000 women, are typically prohibited from traveling out of state and are, therefore, unable to get the procedure done legally. Additionally, individuals who are not released until after they have given birth will have to do so in prisons or in hospitals where they are commonly allowed only 24 hours with the baby before being obligated to return to prison. Before the repeal of Roe v. Wade, getting an abortion was a complicated process for incarcerated women, but they had the choice.
To aggravate this situation, prisons are not equipped to assist pregnant women, making them more vulnerable to medical negligence. Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, told Mother Jones, “Forcing people to carry pregnancies to term when they are in facilities that historically cannot address their medical needs is very disturbing.” Furthermore, unbalanced meals increase the chances of maternal mortality, stillbirth, and low birth weight. To illustrate the inhumane treatment, Mother Jones shared Pamela Winn’s testimony. She stated that deputies wrapped shackles with a double chain around her 5-month pregnant belly and connected them to her wrist cuffs as she was heading to court. She fell and did not receive medical assistance for weeks. This resulted in a miscarriage in her cell. Afterward, the guards discarded her baby in the trash and later put Winn in solitary confinement.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade and its implications were widely publicized in the news. However, the spotlight was on the consequences for non-incarcerated people. There has been little and insufficient coverage on the consequences for incarcerated people. In July 2022, the Los Angeles Times an opinion piece on the topic by Kate Weisburd, a law professor at Georgetown University. Though Weisburd documented concerns about limited access to abortions for people on probation and parole who are tracked by surveillance technology and cannot travel out of state, the newspaper positioned Professor Weisburd’s concerns as an opinion piece. In July 2022, Biden issued Executive Order 14076, which sought to expand access to contraceptives and to abortion services out of state. However, incarcerated women would still struggle to find care, as the Washington Post briefly acknowledged. Both NBC News and ABC News highlighted the disproportionate impact of the Dobbs decision on incarcerated women of color, though NBC classified its story in a subsection of its website on African American perspectives (NBCBLK), implying that this issue is newsworthy for only a particular demographic, not the entire population. ABC News and Business Insider each included perspectives of pregnant incarcerated people and activists on this issue. Nonetheless, widespread news coverage of the consequences of Dobbs on incarcerated women is scarce.
Samantha Michaels, “The Hell of Being Pregnant in Prison Is About to Get So Much Worse,” Mother Jones, July 7, 2022.
Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, “What Would the End of Roe v. Wade Mean For Pregnancy Behind Bars?” The Appeal, May 5, 2022.
Student Researcher: Yasmin Kim (Loyola Marymount University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kyra Pearson (Loyola Marymount University)