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Ban On Handcuffing Pregnant Inmates In Labor Clears Hurdle In Mass. Legislature

This article is more than 9 years old.

A proposal to prohibit the scary practice of handcuffing pregnant inmates during labor has cleared its first hurdle through the Massachusetts Legislature. If passed, the so-called "anti-shackling bill" would "create uniform laws in county jails and the state prison system banning the shackling of pregnant women during childbirth and post-delivery recuperation — unless they present a specific safety or flight risk," according to an earlier WBUR report.


"This bill has been on file for over a decade — the language has changed a bit — but it's never seen the light of day," says Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. The bill was reported out of committee on Friday, and now it will be given a new number and then most likely go to the House Ways and Means Committee, Amundson says.

Here's more from the NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts news release:

In a step toward joining the 18 states that have passed legislation banning the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Safety has released the Anti-Shackling Bill, a bill the prohibits the practice of shackling pregnant women in our jails and prisons, sponsored by Senator Karen Spilka. The bill has now passed the first hurdle to passage.

“As hard as this is to believe, it is not unusual for pregnant women in Massachusetts jails to be handcuffed to the hospital bed even while in labor,” said Megan Amundson, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “It is inhumane and puts the woman’s and the fetus’s health at risk.”

A coalition of medical practitioners, human rights organization, women’s groups, and faith leaders is urging the Massachusetts legislature to create uniform laws in Massachusetts county jails and the state prison that would prohibit the shackling of pregnant women during childbirth and post-delivery recuperation unless they present a specific safety or flight risk. It would also establish minimum standards for the treatment and medical care for women in jail who are pregnant to promote safe and healthy pregnancy outcomes, including adequate nutrition, prenatal care, and services for managing high-risk pregnancies.

Today, the Department of Corrections and each county jail has its own policy regarding the health care for pregnant women and shackling. “It is absurd that each prison or jail in the Commonwealth has its own policies on whether, when, and how they shackle pregnant women,” said Gavi Wolfe, Legislative Counsel for the ACLU of Massachusetts. “There should be one across-the-board standard: we don’t do it.”

Marianne Bullock, Co-Founder of The Prison Birth Project, has worked in Western Massachusetts with over 100 women who have been incarcerated while pregnant. “Passing this bill is crucial,” she stated. “Ending the practice of shackling and restraint of pregnant, laboring and postpartum women in Massachusetts will allow mothers throughout the commonwealth to give birth with dignity—free of restraint."

The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all oppose the use of shackles or restraints on incarcerated women in labor because it impedes the ability of physicians to assess, evaluate, and provide appropriate care to the mother and child.

“Shackling pregnant women interferes with a physician’s ability to treat mothers and their newborns, and it is an inhumane, unacceptable practice,” said Senator Karen Spilka, sponsor of the bill. “This bill is an important and necessary step toward improving reproductive health for female prisoners and ensuring safe, healthy outcomes for women and their babies.”

Here's a national roundup of current anti-shackling proposals from around the country, posted on the blog Moms

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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