The article by Carolyn Sufrin, End practice of shackling pregnant inmates brings back memories of my own encounters caring for incarcerated pregnant women while working in a public health arena. Although the patients violated the law, many of their crimes were self-inflicted involving drug use, violations of parole and at times, petty or grand larceny.  None were violent offenders. The type of care they received often depended on the correction officer who was responsible for them. Some were better than others.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women celebrated a moral and legal victory last year in the case of Nelson v. Norris. In this case, Shawanna Nelson was forced to be shackled and reshackled to her bed during her final stages of labor by her correction officer. Nelson was incarcerated for credit card fraud and passing “hot checks.” Nelson sued the correction officer stated he inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by forcing her to be shackled during her labor in violation of her civil rights under the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. Anyone who has ever witnessed the birth of a baby knows that women need movement in order to withstand painful contractions. Sometimes they grasped someone’s hand or a bedrail or their knees in order to push or sustain the pain.

Although three judges from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeal initially decided that Nelson could not sue the prison warden or corrections officer, that decision was ultimately reversed and is deemed “historic.” Many states have now passed a law prohibiting shackling of pregnant women, the most recent being Pennsylvania on July 2nd of this year.

Everyone makes mistakes and some of them are costly however, no one deserves to bring life into the world shackled to a bed. Renowned medical groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly advised against using restraints on women who are in labor.  Has YOUR state passed a bill prohibiting the shackling of pregnant women?

A healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.