Shackling isn’t about safety. It’s about punishing those deemed unfit and undesirable for exercising the choice to become mothers.
To be a woman in this society is to be vulnerable physically, financially, and politically. 33 percent of women have been the victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Women, on average, earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio.
Hundreds of thousands of women are positioned to lose access to birth control without a copayment after the Trump administration rolled back an Obamacare regulation that required employers to provide birth control in their health insurance plans. Additionally, women in jails are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the United States. This rapid growth is linked to trauma, sexual violence, and mental health issues.
Of the over 200,000 women in jail or prison, around 6 percent are pregnant while incarcerated. Only 22 states and the District of Columbia have laws against shackling pregnant incarcerated women, but this inhumane practice still takes place in these states because of nonspecific language about shackling pregnant women during transportation to medical facilities and first, second, and third trimesters. Essentially, pregnant women are being illegally restrained, and it’s difficult and often dangerous for these women to speak up for themselves. Often times, these women have already grown accustomed to maltreatment and abuse of power from prison employees.
Not only is this practice inhumane and degrading, it is unnecessary. There has never been a reported incident of a pregnant incarcerated woman attempting to escape or harm medical staff or correctional officers. It is also dangerous. Restraints increase the chance a woman will trip and fail while walking. In labor, ankle, wrist, and even stomach restraints are used to restrict movement. A healthy labor, however, requires movement. Soon-to-be-mothers often walk around the room, squat, and get on all fours to get the fetus in the proper position before they push. Restraints can also impede medical staffs’ ability to assist in childbirth and perform emergency procedures.
Shackling isn’t only harmful for mothers. Shackling can lead to miscarriages, but because society doesn’t value incarcerated mothers and their babies, there is no comprehensive data on how many miscarriages are associated with shackling. For babies who survive a shackled labor, they are entering the world under stressful conditions.The conditions of one’s birth have long-term health implications.
Despite the clear negative impact on the fetus, pro-life groups have been silent on this issue. Conservatives, who often overlap with pro-lifers, defend shackling as a means of safety and security and as proper punishment. The pro-life movement is often hypocritical. The movement is against abortion, and many members are also against birth control. And when a child does enter the world, many pro-lifers are against food stamps to feed these children.
It is rare for the pro-life movement to be silent on an issue that directly impacts unborn and newborn babies. But the pro-life doesn’t care about these babies because of how they feel about their mothers. Shackling isn’t about safety. It’s about punishing those deemed unfit and undesirable for exercising the choice to become mothers.
Recently, State of Wisconsin Representative Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) testified on Senate Bill 393, which would restrict shackling of incarcerated women during labor and childbirth.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can advocate for and uplift incarcerated pregnant women, consider contacting Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners, the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project, and DC’s Prisoners Project.
Image source: Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images