Skip to content

Abortion While Incarcerated

July 27, 2022

Each year, an estimated 58,000 pregnant people enter jail or prison. While incarcerated, those people face unthinkable horrors while incarcerated. Some are forced to give birth alone (like Diana Sanchez) or while shackled (like Pamela Winn). Some are denied critical medical care (like Tiana Hill) or proper nutrition. And many of these people do wish to not be pregnant.

Pre-Dobbs, when Roe was the law of the land, it was already extremely challenging to get an abortion while incarcerated. As of May 6, 2022, weeks before Dobbs, only 23 states had standards that address abortions during incarceration. Evelyn F. McCoy and Azhar Gulaid note that carceral staff have historically used their own discretion to approve or deny people’s requests for abortion services. A 2021 study found that, should an incarcerated individual seek abortion care, two-thirds of the prisons that allowed abortions required the indivdual to pay hundreds of dollars for the procedure: an individual who, on average, would make a maximum daily wage of $3.45. (Further, under the Hyde Amendment, federal prisons can’t pay for abortions in most circumstances.) There are many more issues that pregnant people who are incarcerated face, from the geography of where jails and prisons are sited to TRAP laws.

This “hell,” Samantha Michaels writes, is “about to get even worse.” Unlike those on the outside, people who are incarcerated can’t travel out-of-state for the health care they need. A pregnant person might be freed before their due date, but that might be too late to obtain an abortion. People on probation or parole typically can’t travel out-of-state. And, if there’s a long sentence, there’s one option: be forced to give birth.

People who are pregnant and incarcerated deserve options. No one should be forced to endure the trauma and violence that incarcerated people endure. Forcing an incarcerated person to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term magnifies that trauma and violence. We at Woodhull Freedom Foundation believe that everyone should have access to their fundamental human rights to sexual freedom and bodily autonomy. That includes the right to accessible, quality healthcare, like abortion.

Back To Top