California extends shackling ban for pregnant incarcerated women

Woman holding baby with words "no more shackles"

For three years now advocates in California have been working to extend the ban on shackling pregnant incarcerated women to include shackling during transport as well as labor and delivery. The ban on shackling during labor was already on the books, and this policy, which passed the legislature two years in a row before being vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger and then Governor Brown, was finally signed on Friday.

While shackling during labor gets the most media attention, it’s not the only problem that pregnant women in prison face.

I wrote more about this for Colorlines last year, but pregnant people in prison face many challenges: inadequate nutrition, exercise, prenatal care. Then once the baby is born many get no time with the child to breastfeed or bond, some children are automatically put into the child welfare system and sent to foster families.

I’m really glad to see the momentum building in our favor when it comes to the treatment of pregnant women in prison–but let’s remember for a second where these practices come from: they are based on the way men are treated in prison. W0men used to be a rarity in prisons and jails, a trend reversed in recent decades with the war on drugs. When women’s prisons cropped up with more frequency, many of the practices and policies that had applied in men’s prisons were simply transferred to the women.

Should anyone be shackled in prison? Is that a humane way to treat anyone, pregnant or not?

Should men be shackled when transported for court visits or medical procedures? Or women who aren’t pregnant? I don’t want these policy changes to simply be an exception for pregnant women–I want them to encourage us to reconsider how we treat everyone in our criminal “justice” system.

Congrats to everyone in California who worked on this bill year after year!


Proof that anti-abortion laws hurt ALL pregnant women

We’re only just starting to see the impacts of new extreme anti-abortion legislation that has been passed around the country.

As I argue in this post, these laws also restrict the choices of women who want to parent. I’m going to try to keep an eye on the stories that highlight these connections because I think it busts open the myth that anti-choice activists are only focused on restricting abortion. They’re actually focused on restricting women’s autonomy in a myriad of ways related to pregnancy.

From Nebraska State Paper:

Nebraska’s new abortion law forced Danielle Deaver to live through ten excruciating days, waiting to give birth to a baby that she and her doctors knew would die minutes later, fighting for breath that would not come.

And that’s what happened. The one-pound, ten-ounce girl, Elizabeth, was born December 8th. Deaver and husband Robb watched, held and comforted the baby as it gasped for air, hoping she was not suffering. She died 15 minutes later.

The sponsor of the controversial Nebraska statute, Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, told the Des Moines Register that the law worked as it was intended in the Deavers’ case.

“Even in these situations where the baby has a terminal condition or there’s not much chance of surviving outside of the womb, my point has been and remains that is still a life,” Flood said in an interview with the Iowa newspaper.

The law, the only one of its kind in America, prohibits abortions after the 20th week. It is based on the disputed argument that a fetus may feel pain at that stage. It took effect last October.

These situations, while rare, do happen. Not all women, when faced with a fetus that is known not to be viable, would choose to terminate early. Some would want to carry the fetus to term, and spend that time in whatever way they choose.

The point is: she should have a choice. No one should be forced to carry an unviable fetus to term. No one should have lawmakers interfering with a medical decision that should be kept between the family and the medical providers.

“Our hands were tied,” Danielle Deaver of Grand Island told The Register in a story published Sunday.  “The outcome of my pregnancy, that choice was made by God. I feel like how to handle the end of my pregnancy, that choice should have been mine, and it wasn’t because of a law.”

Also, what kind of BS argument is that about fetal pain? For one thing, the research behind the idea of fetal pain is super sketchy. And for another, what about the suffering of this newborn as it died?

I’ll keep saying it over and over: anti-abortion laws don’t just hurt women who want to terminate their pregnancies. They also hurt women who want to parent.

h/t Mary M.

On Radio Bilingue this afternoon, 3:30 pm EST, talking about maternal health

I’ll be a guest on Radio Bilingue this afternoon, talking about maternal health and the situation for childbirth in the United States.

You can listen to the program here. It will be in Spanish! I’ll post the link to the interview after the show.

Update: You can listen to the recording from the program here.

Washington state anti-shackling bill signed by Governor

Via Seattle Times:

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed a bill that will forbid state prisons, county jails and juvenile correctional facilities from shackling nearly all female inmates who are in labor or recovering from labor.

The law, which goes into effect June 10, also bans the use of waist chains and leg irons at any point in pregnancy and limits restraints on pregnant inmates who are being transported during their third trimester of pregnancy.


Wyoming becomes 27th state to legalize Certified Professional Midwives

wyoming quarter designMore good news on the midwifery front, this time from Wyoming!

A bill was signed into law there on March 5th, legalizing the practice of Certified Professional Midwives. CPMs are midwives that are trained to practice in homes or birth centers. They are an essential player in out of hospital birth access.

Yay Wyoming!

According to the Big Push, Nevada is now the only state in Western US that does not allow CPMs to practice.

Mississippi anti-midwifery bill defeated!

Great news from Mississippi. The bill that had passed the House there and was headed to the Senate was defeated.


For background on the bill go here, and thanks to everyone who took action.

California pregnancy-related deaths triple in the last decade

A new investigative report released by California Watch reports that maternal mortality rates in California have seen a spike in recent years, almost tripling in the last ten years.

To me, there is one clear cause of this kind of increase, and that’s the c-section rate, which according to California Watch have increased 50% in the same decade in CA.

The World Health Organization recommends a c-section rate of about 10%. We currently have a national average of 30%. In some hospitals it’s as high as 90%.

C-sections are major abdominal surgery. There are risks involved, and with so many c-sections, you’re going to start having deaths as a result.

We need less c-sections. Period.

The other thing this report revealed was that there was significant increase in maternal mortality among non-Hispanic whites, a group traditionally excluded from maternal mortality and low infant birth weights. Well again, this is probably because of the c-section rates, which might even be higher among this group than women of color.

The idea that increases in technology use could actually harm women, rather than help them, is impossible to believe for the OB-GYN community:

When researchers unveiled their initial findings to a conference of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2007, there were gasps from the audience, according to participants at the San Diego event. The idea that California was moving backward even in an era of high-tech birthing was implausible to some.

This is exactly the point. Overusing technology it’s just as harmful as under-utilizing it. The bottom line is that OB-GYNs are trained as surgeons, and their dominance of maternity care is proof of that–they are performing more and more surgeries than ever.

We need practitioners who are trained to care for women birthing without technology, namely midwives. Technology has a role, but it should be the exception not the rule. And let’s be clear here. It’s not just c-sections that are to blame. It’s also increasing induction rates, epidurals and other medical interventions that disrupt the process and are more likely to cause interventions.

“For every maternal death, there are 10 near misses; for every near miss, there are 10 severe morbidity cases (such as hysterectomy, hemorrhage, or infection), and for every severe morbidity case, there is another 10 morbidity cases related to childbirth,” Camacho wrote in an e-mail.

Large baby denied insurance coverage, headlines force retraction

I first saw this story over at Unnecesearan, and I’m happy to say that by the time I got to posting about it, some resolution was reached.

You can see a video of the news coverage, but basically a baby in the 99th percentile for size was denied coverage by a health insurance company.

Thanks to a ton of news coverage (possibly fueled by the father’s job as a newscaster in Colorado) the insurance company has reversed it’s policy. The company called it a flaw, but we all know that these kind of denials are pervasive and not going to go away on their own.

New midwifery school opening in Florida this winter

I’m really excited to share the news that Jennie Joseph’s new midwifery school, Commonsense Childbirth School of Midwifery, is opening this Winter in Central Florida, near Orlando.

I got the chance to meet Jennie Joseph recently and she is really fantastic. She has a down-to-earth no nonsense approach to birth care, with an important focus on low-income women and women of color. What she does works–it really has transformed outcomes in her community.

We need more midwives, and that means we need more midwifery schools. Yay!

ACOG is making me nauseous.

Ugh. That’s how I feel everytime I get another press release from the Big Push for Midwives, or see another blog post from a doula or midwifery blog about what ACOG–the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology is up to. Just ugh. The latest: a totally biased segment on the Today show. To be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. If you want to see for yourself, it’s here.

Oh, and then there was the internet campaign to get  stories about the “problem” of desire for out of hospital births. And before that was when they announced they would “allow” women in labor to drink modest amounts of clear liquids, but no food.

They’ve already GOT A MONOPOLY on birth in the US. 99 freaking percent of women are giving birth in the hospitals they control. That’s not enough apparently, because they are afraid. They are scared of all of us, of all the folks out there who are catching on about a different way to be, about how they can escape the hospital and reclaim some autonomy. They’re afraid of the 1% of women who have caught on, who give birth outside the hospital and away from their surgeons.

Still, because they are scared and they are more worried about the professional interests of doctors than the desires of their patients, they continue with their smear campaigns. The one thing that gives me comfort is that their fear is an indicator of our power. So let’s use it folks. People are catching on, and that is real.

The one positive thing that ACOG did recently was admit that their practices–which they say are fueled by fear of being sued–“ultimately hurt patients.” I would say that’s not the whole story, ACOG, but I will give you that our litigious society (and crappy doctor/patient relationship with little trust) makes things worse. Jill at Unnecesarean has more on this, but I would just add that midwives are also suffering from this litigious society and the fear of being sued. Often it’s not even the parents they care for who sue them–but local doctors who disagree with their practices. You can read about one of these midwives in my piece in The American Prospect. Again, she took this one doctor’s fear of her and turned it into action–helping to pass legislation in April to legalize the practice of CPMs there.