Advocates celebrate ‘historic’ passage of bill protecting incarcerated pregnant women

By | 03.08.12 | 4:51 pm

Pic by Smithers7, via Wikimedia Commons

A bill that would put in place humane and uniform rules for the treatment of pregnant women who are incarcerated in any prison, jail or detention in the state passed yesterday in the Florida House and is now heading for the governor’s desk– making it the first legislation of its kind to be passed in the South.

Advocates are praising lawmakers for moving the bill through the Legislature this year. Last year, the bill almost passed but failed to make it to a final vote in the House.

The bill, which is sponsored by state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, would prohibit the shackling of a woman in labor and set other humane rules for the various stages of a woman’s pregnancy. Advocates for the bill have said it would protect the health of pregnant women who are incarcerated across the the board.

The state of Florida received an “F” for its shackling policies in an annual “report card” released by the Rebecca Project for Human Rights in 2010. The group gave a failing grade to any state that failed to “comprehensively limit, or limit at all, the use of restraints on pregnant women during transportation, labor and delivery and postpartum recuperation.” Thirty-six other states also received failing grades.

Mobile Midwives, a Miami-based group that advocates for reproductive rights, said in a press release today that advocates for birth justice were “celebrating a great victory” in the wake of the bill’s passage.

From the group’s release:

Mobile Midwife along with 34 other local and national organizations, such as National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Women’s Law Center, Amnesty International USA and ACLU of Florida are now celebrating a great victory as HB 367, the Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act, has passed in the Florida House of Representatives by a unanimous vote. The historic vote in the House occurred on Wednesday the 7th of March in Tallahassee, Florida. The landmark legislation bans the inhumane and unjustified practice of routine shackling of those who are incarcerated during pregnancy, labor and postpartum.

….

As the bill states, “restraining a pregnant prisoner can increase health risks and the potential for physical harm to the woman and her pregnancy.” Shackling during labor may cause injuries during pregnancy such as dangerous falls and during delivery such as blood clots or fetal distress. Advocates for HB367 argued that there is no need for shackling, as the vast majority of incarcerated women are in prison for nonviolent crimes.

Jamarah Amani, co-director of Mobile Midwives, says the bill’s passage is “historic.”

“We are the first state in the South to pass a bill like this,” Amani says. “That makes us a leader.”

Amani attributes the success of the bill to the mobilization of groups like hers from around the state. This year, she says, her group “linked up with the ACLU of Florida” to get the bill passed.

According to Amani, the bill protects the “human right to give birth with dignity.”

“It’s an injustice,” says Amani, to force a pregnant woman to give birth in shackles.

Amani says that there are still many other states that do not have a law like this in place. ”The fight isn’t over until we don’t have anymore shackling anywhere in the country,” she says.

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