Victoria Law's Blog - Posts Tagged "reproductive-justice"

(originally posted on Alternet)

"I never thought of advocating outside of prison. I just wanted to have some semblance of a normal life once I was released," stated Tina Reynolds, a mother and formerly incarcerated woman. Then she gave birth to her son while in prison for a parole violation:

"When I went into labor, my water broke. The van came to pick me up, I was shackled. Once I was in the van, I was handcuffed. I was taken to the hospital. The handcuffs were taken off, but the shackles weren’t. I walked to the wheelchair that they brought over to me and I sat in the wheelchair with shackles on me. They re-handcuffed me once I was in the wheelchair and took me up to the floor where women had their children.

"When I got there, I was handcuffed with one hand. At the last minute, before I gave birth, I was unshackled so that my feet were free. Then after I gave birth to him, the shackles went back on and the handcuffs stayed on while I held my son on my chest."

That treatment, she recalled later, was "the most egregious, dehumanizing, oppressive practice that I ever experienced while in prison." Her experience is standard procedure for the hundreds of women who enter jail or prison while pregnant each year.

Upon her release, Reynolds started WORTH, an organization of currently and formerly incarcerated women based in New York City, to give currently and formerly incarcerated women both a voice and a support system.

In 2009, Reynolds and other WORTH members took up the challenge of fighting for legislation to end the practice of shackling women while in labor in New York State. At rallies and other public events, formerly incarcerated women spoke about being pregnant while in jail and prison, being handcuffed and shackled while in labor, and being separated from their newborn babies almost immediately. Their stories drew public attention to the issue and put human faces to the pending legislation. That year, New York became the seventh state to limit the shackling of incarcerated women during birth and delivery.

Recognizing the power of women's individual stories to enact change, WORTH is launching Birthing Behind Bars, a project that not only collects stories from women nationwide who have experienced pregnancy while incarcerated, but also strengthens their capacity and ability to share their stories. Too often, issues of reproductive justice are separated from issues of incarceration. Birthing Behind Bars ties women's individual experiences to the broader issues of reproductive justice (or injustice) behind prison walls and helps push a state-by-state analysis of the intersections of reproductive justice and incarceration.

This past March, Arizona became the sixteenth state to pass anti-shackling legislation. Thirty-four states still have no legal protection for women who give birth while behind bars. In Georgia and in Massachusetts, formerly and currently incarcerated women, their advocates, and reproductive rights activists are currently pushing for legislation to prohibit the practice of shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during transport, labor, delivery and recovery. Stories of incarcerated women's pregnancies and birth experiences have proven to be powerful tools when educating the general public and confronting legislators to support such a bill.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, a feminist, abolitionist and author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, issued a proclamation urging women to celebrate Mother's Day in the United States. For Howe, Mother's Day was not a holiday simply for breakfast in bed, cards and flowers—it was a call for women to shape their societies at the political level.

This Mother's Day, take a few minutes to reflect on the reality of women who give birth behind bars. Then take a few more minutes to find out how you can help shape a society where no woman ever has to give birth while in shackles and chains.

For more about Birthing Behind Bars, see:
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Published on May 10, 2012 13:53 • 107 views • Tags: birth, incarcerated-women, incarceration, prison, reproductive-justice, women-in-prison
I just got word that all of my additions and updates to the new edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women have been sent off to the printer.

Since I last updated the statistics back in the summer/fall of 2011 (in between cooking amazingly delicious East African vegan dishes), some of these have changed yet again. Some have been for the better: for instance, now SIXTEEN states instead of TEN states have some legislation limiting or banning the shackling of pregnant incarcerated people while in labor & delivery. (Come on Massachusetts and Georgia! You know you want to follow suit and pass that pending legislation!)

Some of the changes have been for the worse: an amazing media organization for women and girls (which had its own prison project focusing on gender & incarceration) has closed its doors from lack of funding. Other groups that have worked with people in prison have also disappeared off the radar. The number of people in prison continues to rise.

And some remain the same ol', same ol' horrifying reality: A 2010 survey of women’s prisons found that only eight states provided prenatal medical exams, that nineteen provided proper prenatal nutrition and that only seventeen provided screenings and treatments for high-risk pregnancies. (A 1993 survey found that fewer than half of women's prisons provided prenatal care, only 15% provided special diets and nutritional programs for pregnant prisoners, and only 11% provided postnatal counseling. A woman who contributed her experiences to the first edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women and to Birthing Behind Bars told me that she was given no postnatal counseling to help her cope with being immediately separated from her newborn daughter.)

Yes, we have a way to go. But let's not be discouraged; let's celebrate our successes as yet stepping stones to achieving a world where we need no prisons, then continue talking, listening and acting.
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Published on June 14, 2012 08:41 • 143 views • Tags: birth, incarcerated-women, incarceration, prison, reproductive-justice, resistance, women-in-prison
I also took the opportunity to travel around and out of the city to meet with women who had experienced pregnancy while behind bars for WORTH's Birthing Behind Bars campaign. Some of the stories are horrifying, some are heartbreaking and still others are both.

I'm finally getting around to figuring out how to post them on the Birthing Behind Bars site. Today, I posted Kimberly's story. Kimberly was pregnant while in jail, then prison. She gave birth under tremendously oppressive conditions while in prison. She was denied entry to the prison's nursery program even though she was a model prisoner. (She also happened to be a Black prisoner.) She got out and went on to not only successfully fight for Washington State to pass anti-shackling legislation, but continues to support parents trying to reunite with their children as the coordinator of Parent to Parent.

You can watch her videos here:
Pregnancy and Birth Behind Bars in Washington State:

Sharing her story and pushing for (systemic) change:

Supporting Others' Right to Family:

If you agree that NO ONE should have to go through a pregnancy and birthing experience like Kimberly's, sign the Birthing Behind Bars pledge:

and then ask your friends, family and community members to do the same.

Feel free to repost this far and wide.
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Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities co-editor China Martens & I did a joint interview with The Final Straw, a radio program out of Asheville, NC, which aired this past weekend. You can listen to it on-line here:

In late October, shortly before Hurricane Sandy downed power and communications, I did an interview with The Final Straw about Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women and incarcerated women's organizing that aired in early November. It's archived on-line and you can listen to it here:
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At the 2012 Allied Media Conference, I sat down with George Lavender from Making Contact to talk about reproductive justice (or the lack thereof) behind prison walls. It aired this week as part of a larger show on reproductive health behind bars.

You can listen to it here.

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Published on March 21, 2013 10:18 • 57 views • Tags: incarceration, prison, reproductive-justice, women, women-in-prison

I've never been attracted to books set in a world in which women have been stripped of their reproductive rights and function mainly as breeders.

After all, I live in a very real society in which women's rights over their bodies are constantly being eroded. The right to family seems to not apply to those who are poor, of color and/or incarcerated. So why escape to a world in which all of these injustices have been magnified?

The cover of Dan Well's Partials depicts the back of a dark-haired girl of ambivalent skin color looking out over a wasteland. Nothing in the summary indicates that there are people of color in the book. To the jaded reader, Partials might very well be yet another book in which people of color have not survived the apocalypse. I wouldn't have picked up Partials for this blog series on race and gender in dystopia had my twelve-year-old daughter not read and recommended it, letting me know that the main character is a girl of color. And she's not the only girl of color who's survived dystopia.

For full post, go to:
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Published on April 29, 2013 12:20 • 85 views • Tags: dystopia, girls-of-color, reproductive-justice, reproductive-rights, women-of-color, ya-fiction, young-adult

Alise Hegle gave birth to her daughter while facing a seven-year sentence for her meth addiction. Her daughter was born two months early and tested positive for a small amount of meth (".001," Hegle clarified). Her daughter was placed in foster care. One month later, Hegle was arrested and sent to jail.

"I'd been in and out of jail throughout my pregnancy," Hegle told Truthout. But, with her daughter in foster care, Hegle now had to contend with trying to attend custody hearings from behind bars. "I sent in seventy kites [requests] to try to get transported to court hearings," she recounted. She repeatedly asked the guards about attorneys and social workers. Lacking money for phone calls, she was unable to call to search for resources.

Hegle's difficulties navigating the child welfare system from behind bars are not uncommon.

One week after losing his trial, Shayne Rochester lost his son to the child welfare system. Despite having a service plan that included visitation with his son, he was sent to a Washington state prison for men across the state. "I only saw my son once in that first thirteen months," he recounted. He spent his entire prison sentence trying to access services he would need to maintain contact and plan for reunification. "I didn't get the services I needed till I was six months to the gate," he told Truthout. He won his appeal and was released from prison only six days before his parental rights would have been terminated under the Adoption and Safe Families Act.

Read the whole story here:
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This past Saturday, I was on the Melissa Harris-Perry show to talk about the Pelican Bay hunger strikes, the issue of solitary confinement in general, and the sterilization of nearly 150 women in California prisons between 2006 and 2010. I diverted a little from the topics to talk about the fact that *women* are also in solitary confinement and have been (and continue to be held) in California's Security Housing Units, spending 22-23 hours a day in 7x11 foot cells and not being allowed to call their children and loved ones.

You can watch me talking about these issues here:

Segment on solitary confinement and Pelican Bay hunger strikes (with Shane Bauer, Pardiss Kebraei, and Glenn Martin):

Segment on sterilization of women prisoners:

This morning, I had a super-brief appearance (along with CCR President Jules Lobel) on MSNBC's Jansing & Co to talk about these issues:

And this Wednesday night at 8 pm EST, I'll be on Current TV's Viewpoint with John Fugelsang (and will be joined again by Jules Lobel):

If you want to know more about issues in women's prisons and the resistance and organizing around these issues, my publisher is offering a 50% discount (on both the e-book & the paper book) through August 20th if you order it on-line:

The checkout code to get the 50% discount is: summer
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Now up on Bitchmedia:

In 1923, 17-year-old Carrie Buck was raped and impregnated. Her adoptive family, trying to avoid the public shame of having an unwed mother in their midst, had her committed to an institution for the "feeble minded." Because she was supposedly "feeble-minded" and the daughter of an unwed mother herself, the State of Virginia sought to sterilize her and, in 1927, the Supreme Court ruled in its favor.

One would think we've come a long way since 1927. But apparently we haven't.

Starting in 2006, Christina Cordero spent two years in California's Valley State Prison for Women for auto theft. She arrived at the prison pregnant and was taken to see the the prison OB-GYN James Heinrich. "As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it," said Cordero, now age 34. Cordero finally agreed to the procedure before being released in 2008. "Today," she said, "I wish I would have never had it done."

Cordero is one of nearly 250 women who have been sterilized while in the California prison system over the last few decades. While millions of eyes were focused on reproductive-rights debates happening in Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina this month, the Center for Investigative Reporting released a report that revealed nearly 150 women were sterilized in California prisons from 2006 to 2010 without proper state oversight. According to state documents, approximately 100 additional women had been sterilized in the late 1990s. Several women said Heinrich had pressured them into the operation, sometimes when they were actively in labor or on the operating table for a C-section.

You can read the whole post, including hyperlinks, at:
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I was on Viewpoint last night to talk more in depth about the sterilizations that happened in California women's prisons and the issues of reproductive justice (or injustice) happening in women's prisons across the nation.

You can see me (super!) here:
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