The abortion foes also held their own walk Sunday near the clinic, praying as they did so. Later they held a rally in a Gaithersburg church, during which two women — one 18 weeks pregnant and one 23 weeks pregnant — received ultrasound exams that were projected on a 20-by-20-foot screen, said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition.
They gathered around to watch pregnant women get public ultrasounds on a giant screen so they could check out the babies the women are carrying.
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In this first part of Rewire's Women, Incarcerated series, we focus on one woman's prison time—which involved a high-risk pregnancy, forced induced labor, and shackling—to illustrate the problems that thousands of women face behind bars.
This is the first article in Rewire’s Women, Incarcerated series. You can read the other pieces in the series that have been published so far here.
Keeley Schenwar learned she was pregnant the same day she was arrested. That spring of 2013, she didn’t pee on a stick and study the results in the bathroom; there was no moment of elation. Instead, a nurse at the Cook County Jail in Chicago led Schenwar to a separate part of the facility, away from the other women. When Schenwar asked why, the nurse broke the news.
Schenwar, who was just 23 at the time, with warm brown eyes and glossy black hair, barely knew what to say. She had been struggling with a heroin addiction for more than five years. For the second time, she’d been caught stealing from a Walgreens—medicines, makeup, razors—anything she could sell to local corner stores to scramble together the $400 or $500 she needed to pay for her addiction.
She’d been in and out of county jails for years, but this time she was headed to state prison, and she was pregnant.
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“I cried,” she told Rewire. “I didn’t want to tell anyone I was in jail. I didn’t want to tell anyone I was pregnant.”
Over the course of her incarceration, Schenwar experienced two instances of human rights abuses linked to her pregnancy. She also joined the ranks of a growing group in the United States: women who are incarcerated.
While women make up a small share of all those detained in local, state, and federal prisons and jails, their numbers are growing. The number of women in state and federal prisons jumped by 646 percent between 1980 and 2012—from around 25,000 to more than 200,000—one-and-a-half times the speed at which the incarceration for men increased during the same period. In 2012, more than 200,000 women were held in prisons or jails, according to the Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based nonprofit group that has tracked these issues for more than 25 years.
The surge in incarceration disproportionately affects women of color, according to the Sentencing Project. In 2010, Black women were incarcerated at nearly three times the rate of white women (133 versus 47 per 100,000), while Hispanic women were incarcerated at 1.6 times the rate of white women.
Experts told Rewire that, because corrections systems were created with men in mind, the facilities, practices, and policies remain ill-suited to the particular needs of women behind bars.
“There’s been a tremendous neglect of incarcerated women’s medical needs because, overall, they’re a small proportion of the incarcerated population: 9 percent of prisons, and 11 percent of jails,” said Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University.
In fact, federal, state, and local officials charged with overseeing corrections facilities collect virtually no consistent data about how women are treated in a system made for men, Rewire found in a five-month investigation. This week, we will publish a collection of stories based on that reporting.
The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, when asked for a national count of corrections facilities that house women, could only provide Rewire with data that was a decade old. It showed that in 2005, there were a total of 1,821 state, federal, and privately run facilities, of which 187 facilities were authorized to hold only female inmates, and 276 were authorized to house both males and females.
The dearth of information points to the invisibility of, and lack of concern for, incarcerated women, experts told Rewire, and makes it difficult to determine how often abuses occur.
In our Women, Incarcerated series, we have detailed some of the major themes that emerged from our review of hundreds of lawsuits, public records requests, and interviews with experts, public officials, and currently and formerly incarcerated women.
Our findings show the existence of deep, systemic problems in the way that the criminal justice system deals with women.
While some of the egregious abuses of incarcerated women are well known—shackling of pregnant women, and rampant sexual abuse in some facilities—Rewire has identified a host of other problems that receive virtually no attention from mainstream media.
The problems include substandard conditions for pregnant prisoners; widespread failure to provide treatment or medical care for women with drug dependency, who comprise the overwhelming majority of women inmates; frequent denial of care for women experiencing miscarriage; forced induction of birth; and, ultimately, the termination of women’s parental rights because of rigid federal and state laws ostensibly intended to protect children. Articles later this week will delve deeper into these issues.
Like Schenwar, the majority of women behind bars are of reproductive age (the median age of incarcerated women in the United States is 34) and more than four-fifths suffer a serious substance abuse disorder, often related to prior trauma. The vast majority—84 percent—are behind bars for non-violent crimes, usually related to their drug dependency or social marginalization, according to a 2012 report for the Bureau of Justice Assistance that surveyed nearly 500 inmates in urban and rural jails in multiple states—one of the very few national studies of incarcerated women.
In other words, for women, incarceration frequently amounts to punishment for poverty, mental illness, addiction, and abuse, experts said.
“We’ve seen a skyrocket in the prison population overall, and women have increased faster than men,” Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, told Rewire. “That’s a direct result of the fact that so many low-level offenders end up in prison or jail where previously they may have been diverted into the community, or had access to mental health care.”
Schenwar’s story is representative of many women’s experience in incarceration. In this first part of our Women, Incarcerated series, we focus on Schenwar’s prison time—which involved a high-risk pregnancy, forced induced labor, and shackling—to illustrate the problems that thousands of women face behind bars.
Inadequate Food, Conditions for Pregnant Inmates
As with many women who are incarcerated, Schenwar’s crimes were related to her drug dependency.
Her criminal record shows arrests for thefts, trespassing, a DUI, and parole violations. Schenwar was living with her boyfriend at the time she was arrested, and he too was struggling with heroin.
Keeley Schenwar and her daughter.
After finding out that she was pregnant, Schenwar hoped to avoid going to prison. She reasoned that the judge would go light on her, due to her condition, and allow her to do community service. Instead, she was sentenced to a year at the Logan Correctional Center, a place where inmates wear blue and white, but pregnant prisoners wear pink. Apart from that, the facility makes few accommodations for pregnant prisoners.
Even something as basic as food posed problems. In her four months of pregnancy during incarceration, Schenwar recalls being hungry “all the time.”
“When you’re pregnant, you want to eat,” Schenwar told Rewire. “It wasn’t like I expected my craving foods to be delivered to my cell,” she said, but she needed more than the extra apple or egg and carton of milk that were provided to pregnant inmates every day.
She also recalls that pregnant women, like all prisoners, had to walk through the open yard to access the mess hall, whether it was snowing or brutally hot.
The failure of corrections facilities to provide adequate food for pregnant prisoners emerged as a pattern across many states, our research found. Most recently, the Correctional Association of New York released a damning report, based on five years of interviews and legal research, revealing that New York’s state facilities were also failing to provide sufficient food and acceptable living conditions for pregnant inmates. And Diana Claitor, executive director of the Texas Jail Project, told us that the lack of plentiful, healthy food is a frequent problem for pregnant inmates in Texas as well.
Despite the inadequate food and conditions, Schenwar says she received good medical care while she was incarcerated. She recalls regular visits to an OB-GYN, and frequent ultrasounds. In fact, for many pregnant inmates, incarceration affords them the first opportunity to receive prenatal care. (For more on prenatal care for people in prisons and jails, read our Women, Incarcerated article on that issue.)
Schenwar is quick to explain that she wasn’t seeking sympathy. But she says that the guards reacted to her requests, and those of other pregnant prisoners, with demeaning comments.
“The officers judged us constantly,” she said. “If you would complain, they would say, ‘You put yourself here. You were doing drugs and pregnant. I don’t feel bad for you.’”
While at the prison, Schenwar maintained her use of methadone, as prescribed by her doctor. Abruptly ceasing opioid use is extremely dangerous during pregnancy, as it can lead to miscarriage. However, Schenwar’s methadone use created an unexpected complication: It disqualified her from transferring to the Decatur Facility, which has a nationally recognized prison nursery program that allows inmates to stay with their babies for the first year of their lives. So Schenwar knew that she would be separated from her daughter as soon as she gave birth.
“You’re Not Going to ‘Fall Out’ in My Yard”—Forced Induction of Labor in Illinois Prisons
What most upset Schenwar was the prison’s decision to induce her labor when she did not want to be induced—an act that constitutes a human rights violation, experts told Rewire.
At 5 a.m. in early September, Schenwar was on her way to the mess hall with the other prisoners.
“Schenwar, fall back,” she recalls one of the guards saying, as she walked behind the other inmates heading to breakfast.
Two weeks earlier, the prison doctor had informed Schenwar that her delivery would be induced. Schenwar had tried to object, saying that her baby was not ready to be born, and that she wanted to wait until her labor started naturally. Inducing labor can be risky for mothers and their babies. Studies have shown induction to be associated with higher rates of cesarean sections, longer stays in the hospital, and greater blood loss for women giving birth.
But, Schenwar says, the doctor made it clear that she did not have a choice, and when she still objected, she says the doctor called prison guards.
“I had three, maybe four, guards surrounding me saying, ‘I don’t know where you think you are. This is our prison. … You’re not going to fall out in my yard or in the mess hall and cause some kind of chaos,’” she said. “I was scared and I was having a baby and I was in prison. I went back to my cell and I cried, because I knew I would be alone.”
So, when guards told Schenwar to fall back, she thought she was in trouble. But instead guards told her it was time to give birth.
“They explained that because I was being induced that day, which I did not know, they said I could not eat,” she recalled in an interview with Rewire.
When Rewire first sought comment from the Illinois Department of Corrections in relation to Schenwar’s allegation of forced induction, Tom Shaer, who was then the director of communications, did not reply to our specific questions, but wrote in an email, “Inmate anecdotes are often either wholly inaccurate or grossly exaggerated. Not always, but often.”
This notion—that prisoners, and especially women prisoners, are liars—permeates the dozens of cases we reviewed where prisoners suffered miscarriages, still-births, and even deaths. (These cases are detailed in future articles in the Women, Incarcerated series.) While there are undoubtedly instances of false allegations, time and again prisoner’s allegations have been borne out in litigation and federal investigations.
Shaer has since left the department, and his replacement, Nicole Wilson, told us in an email that induced births are an “option” for prisoners:
Pregnant inmates consult with their physician on nutrition and birthing options to make decisions that best meet each individuals’ needs. Offenders whose pregnancies are deemed high risk are encouraged to elect induction so they can be transferred to Bloomington where the hospital can meet their specific needs for a safe delivery. [sic]
In a later email, Wilson changed her stance, saying instead that Schenwar’s methadone treatment meant she was deemed to be a high-risk patient, and that the “decision to induce would have been made by the OB/GYN and would have been made for the benefit of both mother and baby.”
Wilson said that Schenwar had not signed a “refusal of treatment,” which, Wilson said, was offered to prisoners who did not want their births induced.
However, Rewire was able to speak with Kendra Smith, who was also pregnant while incarcerated at Logan. Smith recounted that guards also tried to force her to induce her delivery, but she resisted, involving the warden and the prison’s family services officer. Smith said she recalled similar pressure being put on a third pregnant prisoner incarcerated at Logan.
According to Gail Smith, founder of Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), the Illinois Department of Corrections seems to have initiated a practice of requiring incarcerated women to have induced labor.
“Every woman that I have spoken with after release who has given birth inside in the past year has been induced,” Smith told Rewire.
Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told Rewire that forced induced labor constitute clear human rights violations of pregnant prisoners.
“Any forced induced labor is a human rights violation, even if the pregnant person isn’t incarcerated, because people have a fundamental human right to bodily integrity and to refuse unwanted medical intervention,” she said.
Diaz-Tello said that the stories from Illinois are consistent with what her organization has been hearing from other states. For instance, she said that she had worked with a Texas woman who was forced to undergo a cesarean section while incarcerated, because the doctor was only scheduled to be at the facility for one day.
“The fact that it is happening in prison, where people are even more deprived of power than in a medical institution—that makes it even worse,” Diaz-Tello said.
“All Female Inmates Are an Escape Threat”
In addition to the forced induction, Schenwar described a lonely and traumatic labor, during which she was shackled to the hospital bed.
“There’s a guard on the couch reading magazines as your whole life is torn apart,” she said. “They don’t let any family come. After you have the baby, they shackle you to the bed at their discretion. You hold your baby and then they take her and you go back to prison.”
At the time, Illinois still had an official policy that allowed prisoners to be shackled as soon as they were “no longer pregnant,” said Wilson, the corrections department’s spokesperson. That policy was changed in November 2013 so that “inmates who’d recently delivered a child could also go unrestrained for a pre-determined period of time.”
Despite media attention to the issue, shackling of pregnant inmates remains common, with the majority of states still permitting the barbaric practice. Even in states where shackling is theoretically banned, local activists and incarcerated women say legal loopholes mean that many pregnant inmates still find themselves bound in metal chains during transportation to the hospital, and after birth.
At a 2012 meeting of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, a commissioner “spoke publicly about his belief that all female inmates are an escape threat and that therefore the exception to the bar on use of restraints would always apply,” according to a letter drafted to the commission’s chairwoman by then-state Sen. Wendy Davis. (Rewire obtained a draft of the email.)
In other words, even women in active labor and birth should be seen as escape threats.
Diana Claitor of the Texas Jails Project told Rewire that better monitoring of each incident of shackling is required to ensure the law is being properly enforced.
The emotional impact of shackling, including post-partum depression, can be profound, Claitor said.
“You suddenly feel yourself in the position of being rolled around like a piece of garbage chained to a table, and the other women there [at the hospital] shrink away in horror that you’re some kind of crazed animal that has to be shackled.”
The experience of being pregnant in prison, forcibly induced, and ultimately shackled during delivery certainly left Schenwar with a sense of shame.
Her journal from October of that year—a month after her daughter was born—shows the young woman’s regret at the situation she was in.
“You held my hand just a few hours after I gave birth, wrapped your fingers tightly around my thumb and I knew as you focused your eyes on mine without turning away that I’d love you in every way, each day for the rest of eternity,” Schenwar wrote. “I tried not to sleep, knowing we only had a short time together. Shackles tied my ankles to the hospital bed. You’re the daughter of a prisoner, twice convicted felon, all result of a heroin conviction.”
“I’ll spend the rest of my life making this up to you,” she wrote.
Schenwar was released from prison in 2014, and is now sober. She is successfully caring for her daughter, as well as working with other mothers who have recently been released from prison or jail.
“Just because you’ve been to prison three or five times, doesn’t mean you have to go back,” she said. “People get past it, and they have careers and they have lives and they have families.”
In a windowless room in a Washington hotel, a religious summit of sorts is taking place. The protesters who make an annual pilgrimage to the nation’s capital for the March for Life have gathered to “meet and greet” the very Catholic Rick Santorum, father of seven, and the very Protestant Jim Bob Duggar, father of 19.
What unites the two is a simple belief: that a woman should be willing to break her body in childbirth for the sake of bearing as many children as possible.
The march is an annual protest, held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, making it the perfect platform for Santorum, the former contender for the Republican presidential nomination whose signature issue is his no-exceptions opposition to abortion, even if he is better known for his views on gay sex. (Santorum also opposes contraception.)
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In one corner, several children and young people converse with the older two Santorum girls; across the room Jim Bob Duggar, star of the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting, is talking with an elderly couple from Wisconsin, cheering the 2013 passage of that state’s forced ultrasound law, which he calls “the heartbeat bill” for its requirement that technicians performing the medically unnecessary ultrasound mandated by the law for women seeking abortions also “provide a means for the pregnant woman to visualize any fetal heartbeat.” His wife, Michelle, is chatting up another couple.
As Santorum makes his way toward the door, an older man approaches to ask the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania if he’ll be running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, as he did in 2012. “I’m thinking about it,” Santorum replies with a smile.
* * *
The meeting room areas of the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, which served as home base for the March for Life activists, have all the charm of an underground bunker. Down the escalator from the room where the Santorum-Duggar meet-and-greet took place, exhibits by anti-choice groups, all with a distinctly religious flavor, occupied a drab conference space in the building’s basement.
Crossing the threshold into the exhibition hall was like entering a time warp into Catholic culture as it existed before the modernization attempted by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. There were booths staffed by nuns in habits—the medieval dress abandoned by most orders after Vatican II—and one staffed by robed monks.
Ubiquitous among the give-away trinkets that graced exhibit tables were plastic rosary beads. And everywhere, there were images of Mary, mother of Jesus, in her many incarnations. Human Life International favored Our Lady of Czestochowa, otherwise known as the Black Madonna, depicted in the famous icon as a dark-skinned woman with a dark-skinned baby. Our Lady of Guadalupe is another popular image among the anti-choice Catholics who dominate the March for Life scene. The monks used a Madonna image as the logo of their Cafe 4 Mama, “the pro-life coffee.”
At the table for Archangel Gabriel Enterprises Inc., staffed by a middle-aged Black man (one of very few Black people among the March for Lifers), a statuette of a Mary-like white woman was styled as a kind of hipster teenage mom, her veil replaced with a floppy white beret, her customary blue-and white robes reinterpreted as a loose tunic-and-vest ensemble. But what really set her apart from standard images of the Blessed Mother was her big, pregnant belly, complete with protruding navel. Surrounding her was a set of blue glass rosary beads. Each bead, said the man staffing the booth, was to represent a tear, and inside each “tear” was the image of a fetus, rendered in gold-colored metal. The set could be had for $20. Laid out within the circle formed by the beads were three small models of beige-colored fetuses.
Here was the fundamental difference between the pre-Vatican II church and the right-wing Catholic cults of today: In the old days, such a graphic depiction of a pregnant Mary would be unthinkable, and fetal imagery was absent from religious paraphanalia. Before women had access to birth control and the legal right to abortion, such explicit depictions were unnecessary as objects of veneration. Church and state were in agreement on the limits of a woman’s freedom.
Then, with the rise of the women’s movement, state betrayed the patriarchy, first with the Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, which guaranteed a right to birth control, and then in 1973, with Roe v. Wade. The patriarchy responded with all the elegance of an abusive husband.
For respite from the fetuses and madonnas, I visited a booth whose materials featured slick and appealing graphics, devoid of developing embryos or religious regalia. “Save the Storks,” read the backdrop behind the table. “Are you saving actual birds?” I asked of the young white woman who staffed it. “No,” she said, laughing. The organization, she said, provides vans equipped with state-of-the-art ultrasound equipment that “can be parked right outside Planned Parenthood clinics.” The vans are painted in cheerful shades of blue and pink, some with the slogan, “You Have Options!”
Next to Save the Storks was a booth staffed by nuns, a display rife with religious trinkets and literature. An enormous tapestry of Our Lady of Guadalupe provided their backdrop. I plunked down $5 for a sticker book, Saints for Girls. I don’t know why. Most of them, naturally, met terrible fates.
Near the table that displayed “A Window to the Womb: 4D Ultrasound Images,” was a booth for Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), an organization born in 1960 of the backlash to land reform in Brazil, whose founder, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, described the Spanish Inquisition as “a glorious moment” for the Roman Catholic Church. TFP, which was also allied with the Pinochet regime in Chile and made common cause with the leaders of apartheid South Africa, is an all-male organization that trains young men in medieval combat.
* * *
As the marchers made their way to the National Mall on a sunny, frigid day with windchills below zero degrees, the streets seemed flooded with the green-and-white signs doled out by the Knights of Columbus stamped with black block letters reading “Defend Life.”
Several women drifted by with pink signs. One read “Conceived From Rape: I Love My Life.” An analog version read “Mother From Rape: I Love My Child.”
Young people were everywhere, recruited from Catholic colleges and high schools. Many carried signs that read “I Am the Pro-Life Generation.”
About a block from where a rally was staged on the National Mall as the kick-off event for the march, which would culminate at the Supreme Court, was a makeshift platform festooned with yellow balloons and flanked with yellow-and-white papal flags. Three young men in matching, hippie-style, hand-woven hoodies chanted anti-choice slogans, while a drum corps below, wearing the same outfit, performed in response. A big, yellow banner behind them simply read “LIFE.” It was as if the young people figured Pope Francis was just kidding when he urged the church to lighten its emphasis on opposition to abortion and LGBT rights. Surely they took heart from his shout-out, via Twitter, to March for Life activists earlier in the day.
The display was clearly influenced by the protests of the Occupy movement, yet interpreted, without irony, in a framework of uniformity and precision.
Three vans from Save the Storks were parked across the street.
Groups carrying wide banners represented Catholic dioceses and archdioceses from across the nation: St. Augustine, Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha, Newark, and more. Along the route, the red standards of TFP flailed in the stiff winds.
One man carried a large photograph of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, inscribed with this quote from the right’s favorite victim: “You have a God-given right to live! And, of all places, inside your mother. What in the world happened to us?”
As marchers assembled in front of a large stage erected on the Mall, a military-style chant was roared by a group of young men. I didn’t catch the first part, but the second half went: “Nothing finer in the land than an Irish Catholic pro-life man.”
The crowd of thousands stood patiently, listening to speakers for an hour in temperatures that barely broke into the double-digits. March for Life President Jeanne Monahan read the pope’s tweeted message to the crowd. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) promised a vote on the House floor next week for HR 7, a sweeping anti-choice bill. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) stepped up to accuse President Obama of promoting “abortion violence.”
The theme of this year’s march was adoption, said Monahan, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) was on-message, saying that since there weren’t enough babies available for adoption, every unexpected pregnancy should be brought to term. (See Rewire’s report on the rally, here.)
By the time a youth activist who organized her high school homecoming event around the issue of “adoption, not abortion” came to the podium, I calculated that my toes had been numb for at least 20 minutes, so I briefly sought warmth in a nearby McDonalds, then headed for the subway, figuring to meet the marchers at their final destination, the Supreme Court.
By the time I hiked from Union Station to the Court building, they had already arrived. The street in front of the Court was filled with banner-bearing and sign-carrying marchers, the sidewalk clogged with anti-choicers holding ad hoc prayer vigils. In front of the Court, marchers held a large banner that read “We Are Abortion Abolitionists.”
A young woman and a young man, who looked to be of high school age, built a small snowman, and affixed a “Pro-Life Generation” sign to it. Another young woman had a friend snap her photo with an iPhone as she jumped up, both heels to one side, holding the same sign.
A group of six or so young men in blue plastic ponchos parted the crowd as they walked toward the steps of the Court bearing a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on a platform that rested on their shoulders, quickly drawing a gathering around them of people praying the Apostles’ Creed. The appearance of the Blessed Mother to three schoolchildren in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, is a favorite of anti-communists, as the children said she called for the consecration of Russia.
The windchill was said to be -2 degrees Fahrenheit. Three hours after the kick-off rally began, the anti-choice activists were still out in force.