Prison reform advocates say the Roe ruling will make it easier to deny care to incarcerated pregnant people: ‘It just shows the amount of contempt that these systems have for women’

  • Isabella Zavarise
  • July 3, 2022
  • Insider
  • Prison reform advocates say the Roe ruling will embolden prison systems that do not want to provide abortion care.
  • Overturning Roe will also impact those who are on parole whose movement is restricted.
  • Correctional healthcare is dependent on how much care staff want to provide.

Evie Ponder was around 10 weeks pregnant when she was incarcerated.

After being sexually assaulted, she lost her job and turned to theft and sex work. That’s when she became pregnant.

Ponder was arrested in Hawaii and sent to the state’s Federal Detention Center after going to three banks with a note, demanding money.

When she entered the detention center, no one talked to her about her reproductive options. Ponder told Insider she initially wanted an abortion.

“Before I was incarcerated, I was considering getting an abortion, but when I was incarcerated, they didn’t give me any option of abortion so I felt like I had to have the baby,” she said.

On June 24, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that recognized a person’s right to an abortion.

As many states tighten their laws on access to abortion, the latest restrictions compound the lack of agency thousands of people who sit behind bars face when it comes to their reproductive rights. Prison reform advocates and formerly incarcerated people like Ponder say the decision will make it easier to deny care to incarcerated pregnant people.

At least 1,400 pregnant people are admitted to prisons each year

Wanda Bertram, a communications strategist at the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit organization that researches the harms of mass criminalization, said women make up about 10% of the total prison population. Bertram told Insider about 58,000 people in the US admitted to prisons and jails each year are already pregnant.

Bertram said correctional healthcare varies based on the amount of care that correction staff wants to provide. “If the correctional system does not want to provide healthcare to you, it does not have to,” Bertram told Insider.

Data from The Pregnancy in Prisons Statistics Project revealed at least 1,400 admissions of pregnant people to state and federal prisons each year.

Nineteen out of the 22 states that participated in the project said they allowed abortion, but with caveats: Of the 19 state prisons permitting abortion, two-thirds required incarcerated women to pay for the procedure.

Bertram said the SCOTUS ruling will embolden state prison systems that did not want to provide abortion care in the first place, while also making it easier to deny imprisoned women access to abortion care.

“You’re not really getting them the care they need while they’re pregnant. You’re not really getting them the treatment they need to make the delivery go smoothly, but you’re also not making it easy for them to choose to terminate the pregnancy,” she told Insider.

“It just shows the amount of contempt that these systems have for pregnant people.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.

‘It impacts a lot more than people who are physically locked up’

Julie Abbate, the National Director of Just Detention International, a human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in detention centers said many people who turn up pregnant in prison presumably have been raped because there’s no ability to consent in prison.

“The reality is, is that people take advantage of folks’ inability to fight back or flee or whatever they have to submit,” she told Insider.

Another issue in overturning Roe is the impact this will have on those who are on parole. People on parole have to get permission from their parole officers to leave the state. Abbate told Insider that in states that have outlawed abortion, these people will be just as restricted as those who are locked up when it comes to their inability to get the care they need.

“It impacts a lot more than people who are physically locked up,” she said. “If they leave the state to get an abortion and they’re caught, they’re going to go back to prison to finish out their term. That’s what they’re risking.”

Transported in shackles to doctor’s appointments

Ponder is now an organizing community project fellow at A New Way Of Life Foundation in Los Angeles. She said the care she received while incarcerated was minimal. After one year of her sentence, she was transferred to a prison in California. In total, she served four years.

“That was difficult, you know, not knowing how healthy I was, not knowing how healthy my baby was,” she told Insider.

When Ponder was able to attend doctor’s appointments, she was transported in shackles in a federal van where she wouldn’t be wearing a seatbelt. Ponder told Insider that as the baby started to grow, she started to get worried that she’d fall due to her hands and feet being bound.

“It was embarrassing as well, going into a hospital. I had to go in front of people watching me be pregnant, shackled with two officers beside me every time I went to the hospital,” she said.

The people who took care of her were the other women and mothers she met while incarcerated. They made sure she ate well and would answer any of her pregnancy-related questions.

“That was really good to be around women who had experienced pregnancy before, to give me the advice that I needed to keep me in a calm mental state,” she said.

Ponder had a C-section. When she gave birth to her child, child protective services came to take the baby away because she was incarcerated. She said she became so depressed she asked her doctor if she could stay for one more day. They told her yes. She wasn’t able to see her child again until he was 9 months old.

Since serving her time, Ponder has turned her life around by working with A New Way of Life. The organization is helping her figure out how she can see her child again long-term.

“Just because someone committed a crime, does not mean that they don’t love their children. Our lives matter too. We’re valuable,” she said.

Originally posted here