Blog of Rights

New York Governor Pledges to End Practice of Shackling Pregnant Women

On Tuesday morning, a group of women held a demonstration in front of Gov. Paterson’s office dressed as very pregnant women who were handcuffed. Wearing fake pregnant bellies may seem silly, but the bill we were gathered to support is serious. Staff from the New York Civil Liberties Union joined the Correctional Association of New York and Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH) to draw attention to the shackling pregnant women who are incarcerated during labor and delivery—and to pressure Gov. Paterson to sign a bill that would put an end to this barbaric practice.

The case against shackling pregnant women is clear:

  • It’s not needed. It’s hard to imagine a woman who is nine months pregnant trying to escape prison while being guarded by corrections officers. In the states that have outlawed shackling of pregnant inmates, there have been no documented instances of a woman in labor or delivery escaping or causing harm to themselves, security guards or medical staff.
  • It’s dangerous to women and their babies. Restricting the movement of a pregnant woman — especially during labor and delivery — means that she can’t position herself to facilitate labor, and leaves her without the means to protect herself if she trips or falls. That’s why experts, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association, vehemently oppose the practice.
  • It’s unconstitutional. Immobilizing a woman during labor is cruel and unusual punishment.
  • It violates international human rights norms. Shackling pregnant women who are incarcerated is a practice specifically forbidden by the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

While a fierce struggle for power in the New York State Senate at the end of the legislative session shelved a whole host of social justice bills, lawmakers agreed this was a matter that needed attention. Sponsored and championed fiercely by state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblyman Nick Perry, a bill banning the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women passed overwhelmingly in the Assembly and unanimously in the Senate. To become law and make New York the sixth state to ban this inhumane practice, we only need Gov. Paterson’s signature.

After the protesters chanted for a half-hour in front of the high-rise that houses his New York City office, Gov. Patterson actually came outside to speak with the demonstrators. He shook hands and reiterated his support for the health and safety of women. And best of all, he vowed to sign the bill. This has been eight years in the making and without the tireless work of Sen. Montgomery, Assemblyman Perry, and organizations like the Correctional Association and WORTH, we would not be where we are today. But it’s not often that direct action protest gets such quick and concrete results! As our action on Tuesday shows — sometimes women have to make a scene to get the job done.

To see pictures from the demonstration go to:

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