After the Supreme Court issued its official opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Americans responded in force, taking to the streets in cities and towns across the country to express their devastation over the loss of the constitutional right to abortion.
Forcing someone to give birth against their will is unconscionable — but amid our new post-Roe reality – many state governments intend to do exactly that. In Wisconsin, all abortion care, except in cases to save the life of the mother, has stopped as courts sort out the enforceability of a state abortion ban enacted before women had the right to vote. For those of us who have lived our lives certain that our rights would remain secure, this current moment of upheaval will hopefully serve as an emphatic call to action that helps breathe new life into the contemporary movement for reproductive justice.
As we bring more people into that movement, our vision for reestablishing and expanding reproductive freedom must be bolder and more inclusive than before. We believe that women and everyone with the potential to become pregnant should be entitled to make their own decisions about what happens during their pregnancy – including people incarcerated in our jails and prisons who were denied that right long before Roe was ever at risk.
Being pregnant in jail or prison can be a frightening experience. While correctional facilities are constitutionally bound to provide a “reasonably adequate” standard of healthcare to incarcerated people under the Eighth Amendment, the quality of medical treatment offered in jails and prisons is notoriously poor. It is not uncommon for pregnant incarcerated people to receive little to no prenatal or postpartum care, which helps to explain why they are more likely to suffer a miscarriage and give birth prematurely.
Even during the nearly half century of constitutionally-protected abortion, incarcerated people were often unable to get the procedure. A recent John Hopkins study found that only 1.3% percent of pregnant people in prison end up receiving an abortion, a much lower rate than that of the general population.
In addition to the barriers to reproductive care, the conditions under which people in correctional settings are forced to give birth are often inhumane and traumatizing. When people give birth in a Wisconsin jail or prison, they can be shackled to a bed during and after delivery. In 2017, a lawsuit was brought against the Milwaukee County Jail by 40 women for requiring them to be shackled while hospitalized. This practice is widely seen as barbaric as well as unsafe for the health of pregnant people and their babies, prompting more than 20 states, ICE, the US Marshals, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to limit or ban its use during pregnancy.
The widespread dissolution of privacy and bodily autonomy protections after the Dobbs decision provides a new avenue for empathy and coalition with those who have long been thoroughly stripped of those basic rights. Solidarity with incarcerated people is the most powerful way forward.