Bill Oxford. Getty Images.
Bill Oxford. Getty Images.


Why Supporting Pregnant Incarcerated Women Is a Pro-Life Stand

Pregnancies among incarcerated women are more common than some may initially believe, with around 58,000 pregnant women admitted to prisons and jails in the United States every year. Data about incarcerated pregnant women can help reveal what they experience during pregnancy and postpartum recovery, as well as the impact their circumstances may have on their babies.

A study from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Advocacy and Research on Reproductive Wellness of Incarcerated People was completed using information from 2016-2017 and summarized pregnancies from every federal prison in the United States, as well as some state prisons and large jails. The data portray 57% of women in prison and 5% of women in jail, providing a picture of what pregnant incarcerated women experience. The study found that 11 prisons allowed for breastfeeding and/or pumping, while five jails allowed breastfeeding and/or pumping. Of the 272 babies born, 186 were given to a designated family member for care, while the placement of 183 infants was unknown. Twenty-one babies were placed in the prison or jail nursery, 15 were given up for adoption, 29 were placed in foster care and 21 were given to a caregiver who was not a family member. 

When a woman is pregnant in prison, there can be health consequences for the baby she is carrying. Research shows that when women are incarcerated while pregnant they are more likely to have babies born before they are full-term. They are also more likely to give birth to “infants who are small for their gestational age,” according to a study published in the Journal of Correctional Health Care. The study noted that this is likely due to conditions that impacted these women prior to their incarceration and could be made worse while they are in prison. It also pointed out that because these women are incarcerated, they are in a position where they can be helped because of their circumstances.

When prenatal care is not prioritized for women in prisons, however, this is not the case, resulting in health problems for them and their children. The future success and health of her child should be a primary concern. The ability for an infant to bond with his or her mother, to successfully breastfeed and connect, are all vital for the health and wellbeing of that person. This connectedness should be prioritized when it comes to the difficult circumstances of giving birth while in prison.

Pregnant women who are incarcerated should be treated with dignity. The practice of “shackling” or restraining pregnant incarcerated women has lost support over the years, but it is not illegal in every state. There are still 14 states that do not outlaw the practice, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a group that is vehemently against shackling incarcerated women “throughout pregnancy, labor and delivery, transport, and postpartum recovery.” 

Pregnancy takes a toll on a woman’s physical health no matter where she lives, which is why prolonged care prior to, during, and after pregnancy should remain a priority. And it shouldn’t change just because that woman is incarcerated.

Soon-to-be mothers are often educated on postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and other mood disorders they could experience after delivery. For women who are incarcerated, however, the physical and mental impact of carrying a child may be even more pronounced because women often enter the criminal justice system in a physically and mentally vulnerable position. A woman’s mental state is a serious consideration for people who are imprisoned.

Around 40% of people in jails and prisons had a history of a mental health problem, according to a 2011-2012 Department of Justice report. It revealed that female inmates are disproportionately affected by serious psychological distress. Out of the women in prison, 20% “met the threshold for [serious psychological distress] in the past 30 days,” and 32% of the women in jail did so. Among male inmates, the percentage was smaller — at 14% and 26%, respectively.

Pregnant women who are in prison deserve the level of respect, empathy, and kindness that pregnant women receive who are not incarcerated. The process of carrying and delivering a child is extremely challenging for anyone, and is made much worse if a woman does not have assistance or adequate care.

The stories of incarcerated women who have given birth in prison are chilling and heartbreaking. When a woman is in labor, she is experiencing one of the most challenging moments of her life and is incredibly vulnerable. To any woman who has given birth, the idea of doing so alone in a jail cell, without support or adequate medical attention, is a horrific thought. This is a sad reality for women who are incarcerated. Despite their actions or circumstances that aided in their incarceration, they deserve to have the same level of attention and access to care as other women. They and their children are just as valuable as anyone else, regardless of their circumstances, and the pro-life community would do well to advance the improved treatment of them.

Supporting pregnant incarcerated women and providing them with resources they need to have healthy pregnancies, deliveries, and children, is a way that pro-life communities can counter the argument that they only care about a child before birth.

All women and their children are deserving of life, support, and celebration. Caring for pregnant women in the vulnerable state of incarceration is a way for the pro-life movement to live out this belief.

Already have an account?

Got a tip worth investigating?

Your information could be the missing piece to an important story. Submit your tip today and make a difference.

Submit Tip
Download Daily Wire Plus

Don't miss anything

Download our App

Stay up-to-date on the latest
news, podcasts, and more.

Download on the app storeGet it on Google Play
The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Why Supporting Pregnant Incarcerated Women Is a Pro-Life Stand