News Maternity and Birthing

State Bills Aim to End Practice of Shackling Pregnant Inmates

Teddy Wilson

So far this year, lawmakers in at least five states have introduced legislation to prohibit the practice of shackling pregnant inmates.

Lawmakers in several states have recently introduced bills banning the practice of shackling pregnant women who are incarcerated or detained during labor and delivery.

As of 2010, there were more than 200,000 women incarcerated in federal, state, and local facilities. In state prisons, one in 25 female inmates are pregnant when admitted, and one in 33 are pregnant when admitted to federal prisons. There are currently 18 states that have laws either prohibiting or restricting the shackling or restraining of pregnant inmates.

So far this year, lawmakers in at least five states have introduced legislation to prohibit the practice of shackling pregnant inmates.

Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) introduced HB 27 into the Maryland House of Representatives, and the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday.

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Washington told Rewire that she first became aware of the issue while meeting with activists from Power Inside, an organization in Baltimore that serves women affected by gender-based violence and oppression. While speaking with formerly incarcerated women, Washington heard stories of pregnant women who had been subjected to the practice. “One of challenges that these women face is that they are permanently scarred, emotionally and in some ways physically, from being restrained during pregnancy and during birth,” she said.

Washington drafted the legislation after reviewing laws banning the practice in other states, consulting with students at the University of Maryland Law Clinic, and working with Power Inside and the ACLU. Last year, Washington introduced a bill based on this work that passed the house, but it became “extremely watered down.” It also faced resistance from law enforcement and the state corrections agency.

Washington said that support from the general public has been limited, which she believes is in large part due to the marginalized population that the law addresses. “When we imagine people as part of our correctional institutions, they lose their humanity,” she said.

Washington says this year’s bill is stronger and has support from hospitals and health-care practitioners, helping to frame the issue as one of public health.

Similar pieces of legislation have also been introduced in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Iowa. Sen. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) introduced legislation this year; she too met with resistance after sponsoring a similar bill last year. “Sometimes issues that you think should be a slam dunk are the hardest to get passed,” said Petersen.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, push-back over incidents in which undocumented pregnant women were restrained during labor and delivery recently led to the inclusion of a provision in the omnibus spending bill signed by President Obama to ban the practice of shackling pregnant women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Analysis Human Rights

El Salvador Bill Would Put Those Found Guilty of Abortion Behind Bars for 30 to 50 Years

Kathy Bougher

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador since 1997, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison. Now, the right-wing ARENA Party has introduced a bill that would increase that penalty to a prison sentence of 30 to 50 years—the same as aggravated homicide.

The bill also lengthens the prison time for physicians who perform abortions to 30 to 50 years and establishes jail terms—of one to three years and six months to two years, respectively—for persons who sell or publicize abortion-causing substances.

The bill’s major sponsor, Rep. Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, explained in a television interview on July 11 that this was simply an administrative matter and “shouldn’t need any further discussion.”

Since the Salvadoran Constitution recognizes “the human being from the moment of conception,” he said, it “is necessary to align the Criminal Code with this principle, and substitute the current penalty for abortion, which is two to eight years in prison, with that of aggravated homicide.”

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The bill has yet to be discussed in the Salvadoran legislature; if it were to pass, it would still have to go to the president for his signature. It could also be referred to committee, and potentially left to die.

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would worsen the criminalization of women, continue to take away options, and heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

In recent years, local feminist groups have drawn attention to “Las 17 and More,” a group of Salvadoran women who have been incarcerated with prison terms of up to 40 years after obstetrical emergencies. In 2014, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) submitted requests for pardons for 17 of the women. Each case wound its way through the legislature and other branches of government; in the end, only one woman received a pardon. Earlier this year, however, a May 2016 court decision overturned the conviction of another one of the women, Maria Teresa Rivera, vacating her 40-year sentence.

Velásquez Parker noted in his July 11 interview that he had not reviewed any of those cases. To do so was not “within his purview” and those cases have been “subjective and philosophical,” he claimed. “I am dealing with Salvadoran constitutional law.”

During a protest outside of the legislature last Thursday, Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, addressed Velásquez Parker directly, saying that his bill demonstrated an ignorance of the realities faced by women and girls in El Salvador and demanding its revocation.

“How is it possible that you do not know that last week the United Nations presented a report that shows that in our country a girl or an adolescent gives birth every 20 minutes? You should be obligated to know this. You get paid to know about this,” Herrera told him. Herrera was referring to the United Nations Population Fund and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s report, “Map of Pregnancies Among Girls and Adolescents in El Salvador 2015,” which also revealed that 30 percent of all births in the country were by girls ages 10 to 19.

“You say that you know nothing about women unjustly incarcerated, yet we presented to this legislature a group of requests for pardons. With what you earn, you as legislators were obligated to read and know about those,” Herrera continued, speaking about Las 17. “We are not going to discuss this proposal that you have. It is undiscussable. We demand that the ARENA party withdraw this proposed legislation.”

As part of its campaign of resistance to the proposed law, the Agrupación produced and distributed numerous videos with messages such as “They Don’t Represent Me,” which shows the names and faces of the 21 legislators who signed on to the ARENA proposal. Another video, subtitled in English, asks, “30 to 50 Years in Prison?

International groups have also joined in resisting the bill. In a pronouncement shared with legislators, the Agrupación, and the public, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women (CLADEM) reminded the Salvadoran government of it international commitments and obligations:

[The] United Nations has recognized on repeated occasions that the total criminalization of abortion is a form of torture, that abortion is a human right when carried out with certain assumptions, and it also recommends completely decriminalizing abortion in our region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights reiterated to the Salvadoran government its concern about the persistence of the total prohibition on abortion … [and] expressly requested that it revise its legislation.

The Committee established in March 2016 that the criminalization of abortion and any obstacles to access to abortion are discriminatory and constitute violations of women’s right to health. Given that El Salvador has ratified [the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the country has an obligation to comply with its provisions.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the proposal as “scandalous.” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, emphasized in a statement on the organization’s website, “Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.”

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all,” Guevara-Rosas continued.

In the United States, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) issued a press release on July 19 condemning the proposal in El Salvador. Rep. Torres wrote, “It is terrifying to consider that, if this law passed, a Salvadoran woman who has a miscarriage could go to prison for decades or a woman who is raped and decides to undergo an abortion could be jailed for longer than the man who raped her.”

ARENA’s bill follows a campaign from May orchestrated by the right-wing Fundación Sí a la Vida (Right to Life Foundation) of El Salvador, “El Derecho a la Vida No Se Debate,” or “The Right to Life Is Not Up for Debate,” featuring misleading photos of fetuses and promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion.

The Agrupacion countered with a series of ads and vignettes that have also been applied to the fight against the bill, “The Health and Life of Women Are Well Worth a Debate.”

bien vale un debate-la salud de las mujeres

Mariana Moisa, media coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire that the widespread reaction to Velásquez Parker’s proposal indicates some shift in public perception around reproductive rights in the country.

“The public image around abortion is changing. These kinds of ideas and proposals don’t go through the system as easily as they once did. It used to be that a person in power made a couple of phone calls and poof—it was taken care of. Now, people see that Velásquez Parker’s insistence that his proposal doesn’t need any debate is undemocratic. People know that women are in prison because of these laws, and the public is asking more questions,” Moisa said.

At this point, it’s not certain whether ARENA, in coalition with other parties, has the votes to pass the bill, but it is clearly within the realm of possibility. As Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, told Rewire, “We know this misogynist proposal has generated serious anger and indignation, and we are working with other groups to pressure the legislature. More and more groups are participating with declarations, images, and videos and a clear call to withdraw the proposal. Stopping this proposed law is what is most important at this point. Then we also have to expose what happens in El Salvador with the criminalization of women.”

Even though there has been extensive exposure of what activists see as the grave problems with such a law, Garcia said, “The risk is still very real that it could pass.”

Analysis Abortion

Data Shows Surge in Texans Traveling Out of State to Get an Abortion

Teddy Wilson

A Rewire analysis has found that while Texas data shows there has been a decline in the number of abortions in the state, data from other neighboring states suggests there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Texans traveling out of state to access abortion care since the passage of HB 2 in 2013.

Last week, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) was accused by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas of deliberately attempting to conceal abortion statistics from 2014, the first full year provisions of the state’s omnibus abortion law were in effect.

DSHS has yet to respond to a letter from the ACLU of Texas demanding that the agency make those statistics available to the public.

The news comes as the Supreme Court is set to issue a ruling on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges provisions of the abortion law, HB 2, which lawyers of the abortion clinics argue place an undue burden on patients and providers in the state, impeding their ability to provide or access constitutionally protected health care.

DSHS officials finalized the statistics in March, according to the ACLU in a statement, but they have yet to release the full statistics to the public.

“The details are being reviewed for accuracy,” Carrie Williams, director of media relations for DSHS, told Rewire. “We did release the provisional total several months ago but can’t release the underlying details until they are final.”

Even without those details, a Rewire analysis has found that while DSHS data shows there has been a decline in the number of abortions in the state, data from other neighboring states suggests there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Texans traveling out of state to access abortion care since the passage of HB 2 in 2013.

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The number of abortions in Texas has been steadily decreasing since 2008, according to data from DSHS: Over the six-year period, the number has declined by nearly 22 percent. There were 81,591 abortions in 2008, 77,850 in 2009, 77,592 in 2010, 72,470 in 2011, 68,298 in 2012, and 63,849 in 2013.

Around that time, the number of Texans who traveled out of state to have abortions also steadily decreased, by nearly 57 percent from 2008 to 2012. There were 225 patients who had abortions out of state in 2008, 220 in 2009, 129 in 2010, 138 in 2011, and 97 in 2012, according to DSHS.

In 2013, the year Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed HB 2 into law, the number of Texans who traveled out of state to have an abortion increased to 681more than the previous four years combined. Prior to the implementation of HB 2, there were 41 facilities providing abortion services in the state, and 16 of those facilities had either closed or stopped providing abortion services by the end of 2013.

Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, told Rewire that the statistics for out-of-state abortions for Texans are concerning. “This is more evidence of what was already proven in court: Texas’ onerous regulations unnecessarily block access to safe, legal abortion in our state,” Trigilio said in an email to Rewire.

Specifically, a study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project showed the implementation of HB 2 has increased travel distances to clinics, out-of-pocket costs, and overnight stays.

At least 400 more patients traveled outside of Texas to have an abortion in 2014 than did in 2013, according to Rewire‘s analysis. Data collected by the state health departments of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana shows that at least 1,086 patients traveled to those states from Texas to obtain an abortion after portions of HB 2 took effect.

“Based on this [analysis from Rewire], it’s clear that this law doesn’t make women safer, it forces them to travel across the Texas border to get the care they need—and for women who can’t afford to leave the state, Texas law may prevent them from seeing a doctor at all,” Trigilio continued.

Texas Patients Seeking Out-of-State Abortions

In the wake of HB 2, more than half of the clinics that provide abortion services in Texas have been forced to close, leaving large swaths of the state without access to legal abortion care. The majority of the clinics that have remained open are located in major metropolitan areas: Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

As clinics that once served rural areas have closed, patients have been forced to drive hundreds of miles away from their homes to one of the state’s major cities or cross the border into neighboring states. 

Arkansas has seen a slight increase since the passage of HB 2 in the number of patients from Texas seeking abortion care.

Arkansas’ Health Statistics Branch of the state health department tracks the number of patients from out of state who have abortions. There were 21 from Texas in 2012, 25 in 2013, 41 in 2014, and 33 in 2015.

Kansas has also seen a slight increase in the number of Texas patients seeking abortion care, according to statistics published by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. There were two patients from Texas who traveled to Kansas to obtain an abortion during 2012, 13 in 2013,  23 in 2014, and 24 in 2015.

Oklahoma saw a noticeable increase in the number of patients from Texas seeking abortion care there after the passage of HB 2, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health annual abortion surveillance report.

There were 21 patients from Texas who had an abortion during 2012 in Oklahoma, 59 in 2013, 136 in 2014, and 131 in 2015.

Based on Rewire‘s analysis, it seems as if no other state has seen a larger increase in patients from Texas seeking abortion care than Louisiana.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) publishes data on abortions performed there collected by the State Center for Health Statistics (SCHS), but has typically not published data on the number of patients who live outside the state who have an abortion in Louisiana.

Preliminary SCHS figures for 2015 provided to Louisiana Right to Life, a state affiliate of the anti-choice organization National Right to Life Committee, included data on patients from out of state who obtained abortions in Louisiana.

There were 9,311 abortions performed in Louisiana during 2015, and patients from out of state accounted for 1,362 of all abortions performed in the state, according to DHH data published by Louisiana Right to Life.

The data did not include the states of residency for the patients from out of state, which the organization noted is “not available at this time.”

However, preliminary SCHS figures for 2014 provided to the Louisiana Right to Life did include details on the states of residency for patients who had an abortion in Louisiana. There were 10,211 abortions performed in Louisiana during 2014, and patients from out of state accounted for 1,432 of all abortions performed in the state.

Out of the 1,432 abortions had by residents from out of state, 886 were from Texas.

More and more pregnant people are traveling to New Mexico to access abortion care. About 20 percent of the roughly 4,500 abortions performed there in 2014 involved out-of-state patients, according to state health department data reported by the Albuquerque Journal.

Brittany Defeo, program manager with the aid group New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, previously told Rewire that the people she assists represent a wide range of ages and backgrounds. “They’re ages 18 to 40. It’s all walks of life,” Defeo said.

Defeo estimates that approximately one third of those seeking abortion services in New Mexico from out of state are from Texas. If estimates are correct, that would suggest that approximately 300 patients traveled from Texas to New Mexico to obtain abortion care in 2014. 

Natalie St. Clair, who assists patients seeking abortion care with nonprofit Fund Texas Choice, told the Texas Observer that she helps about ten clients per month travel to New Mexico to access abortion care. St. Clair explained to the Observer that clients often express shock over the barriers in Texas to accessing  abortion care.

“I hear a lot of ‘I had no idea that the laws were this way. I have to go out of state?’ There’s a lot of shame and guilt because people think it’s their fault, or they weren’t prepared enough,” St. Clair said. “I explain that [Texas laws] are set up this way on purpose … [They’re] making abortion inaccessible on purpose.”

Trigilio told Rewire that this data shows that HB 2 was never about protecting patients’s health and safety as proponents have claimed. “When a woman makes the deeply personal decision to have an abortion, she needs access to safe medical care and respect for the decision she has made. HB 2 impedes that,” the ACLU of Texas staff attorney said.