On January 26, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Pennsylvania Legislature unanimously approved a bill to limit the use of restraints on pregnant women during labor, childbirth, or postpartum recovery, including during transportation to the hospital or during any pregnancy-related medical distress. The bill prohibits the use of restraints unless corrections staff make an individualized determination that a pregnant woman poses a substantial flight risk or security risk.
Explaining the need for the state to enact a law on the shackling of pregnant women during labor, State Senator Daylin Leach said, “This is not something that happens every day, but this is something that could happen on any given day.”
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Current Pennsylvania law does not expressly prohibit the shackling of women in labor or during childbirth, allowing for arbitrary and inconsistent treatment of women across state and county prison institutions. In 2008, for example, a woman was subjected to shackling throughout labor and immediately after her baby was born. Only during emergency cesarean surgery were the restraints removed. She still has scars on her ankles from the restrictive leg irons.
As the president of the Pennsylvania County Corrections Association said, “What the law would do is compel counties to put a written policy in place.”
Written policies are essential to establish and communicate expectations – to corrections officials, corrections staff, and women in prison. State legislation ensures that these written policies will be uniform, instead of leaving it to each state or county agency or individual prison to determine its own policy. Statutes, unlike internal policies, cannot be changed unilaterally or without notice to the public, ensuring a greater level of transparency. Statutes can also contain remedies to address violations of their terms.
Though crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women to persuade them not get an abortion, Priscilla Coleman suggested that people dealing with the additional financial and geographical barriers imposed by waiting periods turn to those organizations for help.
A leading anti-choice “expert” suggested during an interview with Rewire at the National Right to Life Convention last week that women should turn to crisis pregnancy centers to cope with the barriers to abortion care, including obstacles she helped create.
Priscilla Coleman, one of the “False Witnesses” previously featured on Rewire for her egregious falsehoods about the supposed link between abortion and mental health, said that the “scientific information” she provides in her speaking engagements and through her nonprofit, the World Expert Consortium for Abortion Research and Education (WECARE), has helped get anti-choice bills passed in states, particularly South Dakota.
Though her work has been widely discredited by the scientific and medical community, Coleman has nonetheless frequently appeared as an “expert witness” in trials and hearings. As Coleman told Rewire, she is “not a medical doctor” but has nonetheless “been really involved for ten years now with South Dakota” and its anti-choice legislation. This included the South Dakota Informed Consent Law (HB 1166), and what she deemed to be an “anti-coercion bill,” seemingly referring to HB 1217, which requires that a woman seeking an abortion wait 72 hours and visit a crisis pregnancy center prior to the abortion.
Coleman acknowledged that the anti-choice laws in the state such as the waiting period had created barriers to care, as “women have to … get a hotel, you know, or find a way back” to clinics.
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“And that’s the complaint on the other side, that it’s making access more difficult,” Coleman went on, “but as all the data out there is showing the long-term effects of abortion, spending three more days to make the decision is in the women’s best interest, no matter what side you’re on.”
When pressed to respond to those who note that anti-choice restrictions make accessing abortion more difficult, Coleman replied that she “would just say that it’s worth a three-day hotel room and … if you’re going to pay for an abortion, allow an extra couple hundred dollars … to take some time because it has lifetime implications.”
Coleman, however, struggled to account for how one might come up with that money.
“Well, they’re somehow coming up with the money for the abortion,” said Coleman. “I’m not familiar enough with fees and things, but my understanding is that most women, no matter how poor they are, still have to pay for the procedure. Is that correct?”
Though crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women to persuade them not get an abortion, Coleman suggested that those dealing with the additional financial and geographical barriers imposed by waiting periods turn to those organizations for help.
“I’m sure that if they contacted crisis pregnancy centers … women could find a place to stay for a couple of days,” said Coleman. “I’m sure that many people affiliated with those centers would be happy to house the women in their own home if there is a room for them.”
The other anti-choice law Coleman connected herself with, HB 1166, uses the same falsehoods she claims her research supports. South Dakota’s so-called informed consent law requires doctors to receive consent prior to performing an abortion, and mandates that physicians provide those seeking care with written information that, among other things, falsely claims there is a connection between abortion and both “depression and related psychological distress” and “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.”
As the Guttmacher Institute explains, all states already require patients consent prior to receiving medical care, and materials provided by the states that require mandated abortion counseling often offer “information that is irrelevant or misleading.”
Writer Dani Kelley thought she had shed the patriarchal and self-denying lessons of her conservative religious childhood. But those teachings blocked her from initially admitting that an encounter with a man she met online was not a "date" that proved her sexual liberation, but an extended sexual assault.
Content note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.
The night I first truly realized something was wrong was supposed to be a good night.
A visiting friend and I were in pajamas, eating breakfast food at 10 p.m., wrapped in blankets while swapping stories of recent struggles and laughs.
There I was, animatedly telling her about my recently acquired (and discarded) “fuck buddy,” when suddenly the story caught in my throat.
When I finally managed to choke out the words, they weren’t what I expected to say. “He—he held me down—until, until I couldn’t—breathe.”
Hearing myself say it out loud was a gut-punch. I was sobbing, gasping for breath, arms wrapped as if to hold myself together, spiraling into a terrifying realization.
This isn’t the story I wanted.
Unlearning My Training
I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren movement, a small fundamentalist Christian denomination that justifies strict gender roles through a literal approach to the Bible. So, according to 1 Corinthians 11:7, men are considered “the image and glory of God,” while women are merely “the glory of man.” As a result, women are expected to wear head coverings during any church service, among other restrictions that can be best summed up by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: Women are never allowed to have authority over men.
If you’ve spent any number of years in conservative Christianity like I did, you’re likely familiar with the fundamentalist tendencyto demonize that which is morally neutral or positive (like premarital sex or civil rights) while sugar-coating negative experiences. The sugar-coating can be twofold: Biblical principles are often used to shame or gaslight abuse victims (like those being shunned or controlled or beaten by their husbands) while platitudes are often employed to help members cope with “the sufferings of this present time,” assuring them that these tragedies are “not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
In many ways, it’s easy to unlearn the demonization of humanity as you gain actual real-world experience refuting such flimsy claims. But the shame? That can be more difficult to shake.
On top of that, the biblical literalism frequentlyrequired by conservative Christianity in the United States promotes a terrifying interpretation of Scripture, such as Jeremiah 17:9. The King James Version gives the verse a stern voice, telling us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” If we believe this, we must accept that we’re untrustworthy witnesses to our own lives. Yet somehow, we’re expected to rely on the authority of those the Bible deems worthy. People like all Christians, older people, and men.
Though I’ve abandoned Christianity and embraced feminist secular humanism, the culture in which I grew up and my short time at conservative Bob Jones University still affect how I view myself and act in social situations. The lessons of my formative years created a perfect storm of terrible indoctrination: gender roles that promoted repressed individuality for women while encouraging toxic masculinity, explicit teaching that led to constant second-guessing my ability to accurately understand my own life, and a biblical impetus to “rejoice in my suffering.”
Decades of training taught me I’m not allowed to set boundaries.
But Some Habits Die Hard
Here’s the thing. At almost 30, I’d never dated anyone other than my ex-husband. So I thought it was about time to change that.
When I found this man’s online profile, I was pleasantly surprised. It was full of the kind of geekery I’m into, even down to the specific affinity for eclectic music. I wrote to him, making sure my message and tone were casual. He responded instantly, full of charisma and charm. Within hours, we’d made plans to meet.
He was just as friendly and attentive in person. After wandering around town, window-shopping, and getting to know one another, he suggested we go to his favorite bar. As he drank (while I sipped water), he kept paying me compliments, slowly breaking the touch barrier. And honestly, I was enthralled—no one had paid attention to me like this in years.
When he suggested moving out to the car where we could be a little more intimate, I agreed. The rush of feeling desired was intoxicating. He seemed so focused on consent—asking permission before doing anything. Plus, he was quite straightforward about what he wanted, which I found exciting.
So…I brought him home.
This new and exciting “arrangement” lasted one week, during which we had very satisfying, attachment-free sex several times and after which we parted ways as friends.
That’s the story I told people. That’s the story I thought I believed. I’d been freed from the rigid expectations and restraints of my youth’s purity culture.
Now. You’re about to hear me say many things I know to be wrong. Many feminists or victim advocates almost certainly know the rationalizations and reactions I’m about to describe are both normal responses to abuse and a result of ingrained lies about sex in our culture. Not to mention evidence of the influence that right-wing conservatism can have on shaping self-actualization.
As I was telling people the story above, I left out important details. Were my omissions deliberate? An instinctive self-preservation mechanism? A carryover from draconian ideals about promiscuity?
When I broke down crying with my friend, I finally realized I’d kept quiet because I couldn’t bear to hear myself say what happened.
I’m a feminist, damn it. I left all the puritanical understandings of gender roles behind when I exited Christianity! I even write about social justice and victim advocacy. I ought to recognize rape culture!
If only being a socially aware feminist was enough to erase decades of socialization as a woman within rape culture—or provide inoculation against sexual violence.
That first night, once we got to my car, he stopped checking in with me. I dismissed the red flag as soon as I noticed it, telling myself he’d stop if I showed discomfort. Then he smacked my ass—hard. I pulled away, staring at him in shocked revulsion. “Sorry,” he replied, smirking.
He suggested that we go back to my house, saying we’d have more privacy than at his place. I was uneasy, unconvinced. But he began passionately kissing, groping, petting, and pleading. Against my better judgment, I relented.
Yet, in the seclusion of my home, there was no more asking. There was only telling.
Before I knew it, I’d been thrown on my back as he pulled off my clothes. I froze. The only coherent thought I could manage was a weak stammer, asking if he had a condom. He seemed agitated. “Are you on birth control?” That’s not the point! I thought, mechanically answering “yes.”
With a triumphant grin and no further discussion, he forced himself into me. Pleasure fought with growing panic as something within me screamed for things to slow down, to just stop. The sensation was familiar: identical to how I felt when raped as a child.
I frantically pushed him off and rolled away, hyperventilating. I muttered repeatedly, “I need a minute. Just give me a minute. I need a minute.”
“We’re not finished yet!” he snapped angrily. As he reached for me again, I screeched hysterically, “I’M NOT OK! I NEED A MINUTE!”
Suddenly, he was kind and caring. Instead of being alarmed, I was strangely grateful. So once I calmed down, I fucked him. More than once.
It was—I told myself—consensual. After all, he comforted me during a flashback. Didn’t I owe him that much?
Yet, if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d forcefully smack my ass. If I didn’t seem happy enough, he’d insistently tell me to smile as he hit me again, harder. He seemed to relish the strained smile I would force on command.
I kept telling myself I was okay. Happy, even. Look at how liberated I was!
All week, I was either at his beck and call or fighting suicidal urges. Never having liked alcohol before, I started drinking heavily. I did all I could to minimize or ignore the abuse. Even with his last visit—as I fought to breathe while he forcefully held my head down during oral sex, effectively choking me—I initially told myself desperately that surely he wouldn’t do any of this on purpose.
The Stories We Tell and The Stories That Just Are
Reflecting on that week, I’m engulfed in shame. I’m a proud feminist. I know what coercion looks like. I know what rape looks like. I know it’s rarely a scary man wearing a ski mask in a back alley. I’ve heard all the victim-blaming rape apologia you have: that women make up rape when they regret consenting to sex, or going on a date means sex is in the cards, or bringing someone home means you’re game for anything.
Reality is, all of us have been socialized within a patriarchal system that clouds our experiences and ability to classify them. We’re told to tend and befriend the men who threaten us. De-escalation at any cost is the go-to response of almost any woman I’ve ever talked to about unwanted male attention. Whatever will satiate the beast and keep us safe.
It’s all lies, of course. Our culture lies when it says that there are blurred lines when it comes to consent. It violates our personhood when it requires us to change the narrative of the violence enacted against us for their own comfort. Right-wing Christianity lies when it says we don’t belong to ourselves and must submit to the authority of a religion or a gender.
Nobody’s assaulted because they weren’t nice enough or because they “failed” to de-escalate. There’s nothing we can do to provoke such violence. Rape is never deserved. The responsibility for sexual assault lies entirely with those who attack us.
So why was the story I told during and after that ordeal so radically and fundamentally different from what actually happened? And why the hell did I think any of what happened was OK?
Rape myths are so ingrained in our cultural understanding of relationships that it was easier for me to believe nothing bad had happened than to accept the truth. I thought if I could only tell the story I wanted it to be, then maybe that’s what really happened. I thought if I was willing—if I kept having him over, if I did what he ordered, if I told my friends how wonderful it was—it would mean everything was fine. It would mean I wasn’t suffering from post-traumatic stress or anxiety about defying the conservative tenets of my former political and religious system.
Sometimes, we tell ourselves the stories we want to hear until we’re able to bear the stories of what actually happened.
We all have a right to say who has what kind of access to our bodies. A man’s masculinity gives him no authority over anyone’s sexual agency. A lack of a “no” doesn’t mean a “yes.”Coercion isn’t consent. Sexual acts performed without consent are assault. We have a right to tell our stories—our real stories.
So, while this isn’t the story I wanted, it’s the story that is.