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Birthing While Incarcerated

March 9, 2022

Prisons and jails are not safe and healthy places; they are, by design, the site of unthinkable abuse and inhumane conditions. Pregnant people on the inside acutely experience the violence of incarceration. Every year, an estimated 58,000 pregnant people are admitted to jails or prisons in the U.S. Victoria Law notes that many of those pregnant people are left with inadequate nutrition, chained during medical appointments, shackled during birth, and, in some states, prohibited from breastfeeding their newborns at the hospital.

After enduring multiple reproductive health traumas in prison—including limitations on the number of menstrual pads to purchase and requirements to show male guards used pads to purchase more—Topeka K. Sam founded the Ladies of Hope Ministries. LOHM advocates for legislative changes, such as “demanding dignity for incarcerated women by ending policies like the shackling of pregnant people and making menstrual products free.”

Most recently, Tiffany Diane Tso notes, LOHM partnered with Mama Glow and Optum to create job opportunities and trauma-informed pregnancy support for incarcerated people. LOHM’s initiative is to train doulas, who are often the first line of defense for birthing people, to provide that support.

LOHM’s efforts are advancing the fundamental human right to sexual freedom, one pregnancy at a time. We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation know that every pregnant person deserves access to quality food, excellent medical care, and a compassionate, humane experience, should they give birth. That is why we offered testimony in support of Florida’s H.B. 367 to prohibit the shackling of incarcerated pregnant people during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery. We unequivocally support LOHM and all sexual freedom organizations and advocates that are working on mitigating the unconscionable violence that pregnant people in jails and prisons face.

A fence with razor wire in front of a cement building with thin tall windows. It appears to be a jail. (Mark Ralston/AFP)

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