Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Shackling Women During Labor and Delivery

Forcing induced labor, forcing C-sections, using shackles during labor and restraints during delivery. These sound barbaric, surely not current practice, surely not here. Can a baby in the US, in the 21st century, be born to a mother in leg irons?

Via Feminist Law Profs (and
here): a circuit court has ruled that shackling a pregnant inmate in labor does not constitute a violation of the 8th Amendment (that's the amendment which forbids punishments that are excessive or cruel and unusual). Only 2 states (Illinois and California) have legislation regulating the restraint of laboring women (and legislation is pending in my state, New York).

Never mind that restraints during labor, and especially shackles, pose a risk to the welfare of both mother and baby. An Amnesty International report notes that women in labor should be free to assume different positions and should be easily transportable to an operating room. Read a moving account and a 2006 NYT article. Lest you think that this applies to only the rare case, keep in mind that about 2,000 babies are born to incarcerated women each year.

That this could happen in the USA is no doubt linked to unfortunate and unethical intersecting social trends:

— erosion of prisoner rights
— denial of adequate health care to prisoners in the US
— the common practice of constraining laboring women to labor on their back for the sake of fetal monitoring
— lack of recognition of human rights for pregnant women

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