News Law and Policy

Governor Signs Two ‘Critical’ Bills for Pregnant New Yorkers

Jenn Stanley

The bills ban the shackling of pregnant inmates and allow expecting New Yorkers to purchase health insurance at any point during their pregnancy.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed two bills Wednesday that provide protections for pregnant women in the Empire State.

One of the bills, signed Wednesday, is a first for the nation. It allows expectant New Yorkers to purchase health insurance at any point during their pregnancy, without having to wait for an open enrollment period.

“New York is the first state in the nation to classify pregnancy as a ‘qualifying event’ for health insurance enrollment,” Andrea Miller, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, said in a press statement. “This legislation will expand access to maternity care, including prenatal visits, labor, and delivery, and improve the health of women and children throughout our state. Thanks to the legislature and Governor Cuomo, New York’s proud legacy of leading the nation in advancing women’s health continues.”

The other bill, signed Tuesday, bans the practice of shackling pregnant women who are being transported or who are within eight weeks of expected delivery, except in extraordinary circumstances. This bill expands upon a 2009 bill that outlawed shackling during childbirth.

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The Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York released a report in February that showed the quality of reproductive health care in the state’s prisons is “shockingly substandard.” Twenty-three out of 27 women were shackled during childbirth, despite the 2009 law, according to the report. Medical evidence shows that the practice poses serious health and safety risks to pregnant women and their fetuses.

The new bill dictates uniform standards for correctional facilities and extends the ban throughout pregnancy and postpartum. It prohibits prison staff from labor and delivery unless the mother or medical staff request their presence.

“These common sense reforms strike the right balance that protect the health and dignity of a pregnant inmate, while also addressing public safety concerns,” Cuomo said in a press statement. “This legislation has made New York’s criminal justice system fairer and stronger.”

Cuomo this year has instituted a series of prison reform initiatives in New York, including a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile, pregnant, and mentally disabled inmates. Prior to the new ban, pregnant inmates were shackled during transport to their physicians’ offices and between prisons, a process that can take more than ten hours.

“This is a critical women’s rights issue,” Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women in New York, said in a press statement. “There are few things scarier happening to women in New York jails and prisons: being pregnant and getting shackled. Today that practice ends with the stroke of the Governor’s pen.”

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