For the second time in as many years the California Legislature passed a bill outlawing the shackling of pregnant prisoners.
AB 2530 prohibits shackling and restraining women during any stage of their pregnancy “unless deemed necessary for the safety and security of the inmate, the staff, or the public.” Passed unanimously, the bill now sits on Governor Jerry Brown’s (D) desk. Brown has thirty days to approve or veto the measure. Last year Brown vetoed a similar bill based on concerns that this “safety” exception was not included.
If signed by Governor Brown, California would join Illinois, Vermont, New Mexico, Rhode Island and a host of other states preventing the shackling of pregnant women at various stages of pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes the use of shackles on pregnant women in all but the most extreme circumstances. Pregnant women in correctional facilities already face difficult situations accessing health care services and are more likely to experience miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight infants, and potentially fatal conditions like preeclampsia. Advocates against the use of shackling argue that the practice could not only increase stress and lead to further complications during pregnancy, labor and delivery, but also render doctors unable to treat women in emergency situations.
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Anti-shackling bills are an important first step to guaranteeing the rights of pregnant women and are respected and their health care needs met while behind bars. In 2006, the UN Committee Against Torture told the US government that shackling during childbirth is a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory. California’s AB 2530 gets us one step closer to compliance with international human rights law. The challenge now is to get the bans nationwide.