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Bleak Future of Pregnancy Behind Bars After Dobbs

The Bleak Future of Pregnancy Behind Bars After Dobbs

By Audrey Nielsen | July 8, 2022

Thousands of pregnant women are incarcerated or detained around the country each day. The rate of abortion is higher in jail, too, nearly double the rate outside. But many prisons and jails already restrict access to health care for pregnant women, including abortions.

Now, after the Supreme Court has dismantled abortion protections established by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, pregnancy in prison is about to get much worse, Mother Jones reports.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay a District Court’s order requiring that Missouri transport a incarcerated woman to receive an abortion. At the time, Missouri’s Assistant Attorney General, Michael Pritchett, argued that even if the state’s action resulted in the woman giving birth against her will: “It ought not be held that this result—having a child—is a harm at all, much less an irreparable one,” the Washington Post reported.

The District Court had justified its decision to back the prisoner under Roe. But now? With the constitutional right to abortion dismantled by the Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, pregnant people in jails and prisons across the country have lost the protection of legal recourse under Roe in a health system that is already strained and regularly inequitable.

Health care during pregnancy in prisons and jails does not have a happy history. The Mother Jones report goes over accounts of accidents and force that may have caused miscarriages, delayed or cancelled appointments, and restricted or denied access to basic prenatal care: vitamins, healthy food, and simple accommodations.

If you’re in prison or detained in jail—potentially awaiting trial under a presumption of innocence, but unable to post bail—you can’t make the same decision many women and pregnant people can to seek an abortion in another state.

Women on probation or parole are often banned from leaving their states, too—and on any given day, more than 600 thousand women are on probation or parole, the Prison Policy Initiative reports.

Audrey Nielsen is a Justice Reporting intern for The Crime Report.

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