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A Law to Legislate Common Sense

Andy Hoover,
Communications Director,
ACLU of Pennsylvania
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July 8, 2010

It’s hard to believe that we need a law to legislate common sense.

On several occasions, that was the reaction the ACLU of Pennsylvania got from legislative staffers and the media as we advocated for a state bill to ban the shackling of pregnant inmates in labor. On Friday, more than a year of legislative advocacy and several years of community work paid off when Gov. Edward Rendell signed Senate Bill 1074 into law.

Although a person can’t be faulted for being stunned that such a law is even necessary, we know that behind the prison walls — away from the eyes of the world — women are shackled while bringing a child into the world. The ACLU of Pennsylvania and our allies have heard enough anecdotes to know that it has happened in numerous prisons around the commonwealth.

Take Tina Torres and Rose Marie, for example. In a BBC interview, Tina reported that when she gave birth in the custody of a Philadelphia jail, her jailers put her ankles, wrists, and torso in chains. The leg irons cut into her ankles, causing her to bleed and leaving physical and emotional scars. According to the BBC, she gave birth shortly after arrest, but before the state dropped the charges against her and released her. Rose Marie, who was also an inmate in Philadelphia, gave birth with her wrist handcuffed to the bed. She told the BBC, “I begged them to help me, but they wouldn’t. It was horrible. I nearly broke my arm trying to get in the right position to give birth to my son.”

It’s stories like these that motivated the major public health advocates, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Public Health Association, to advocate for passage of the law that prohibits restraints “during any stage of labor, any pregnancy-related medical distress, any period of delivery, any period of postpartum…or transport to a medical facility.”

In passing this law, Pennsylvania joined a growing number of states to ban shackling inmates in labor — West Virginia, New York, Texas, New Mexico, California, Colorado, Washington, Illinois, and Vermont. It’s time for more states to follow Pennsylvania’s lead and end the archaic practice of shackling inmates during childbirth.

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