Just days ago, Maryland enacted reproductive rights legislation that should serve as a model for other states. HB 787/SB 629 requires correctional facilities to provide pregnant inmates access to reproductive medical care, including prenatal testing, labor and delivery, postpartum care, child placement services, counseling—and the right to a timely and safe abortion. Incoming inmates will be given a written copy of these rights, so they are aware.
This first-of-its-kind policy victory is the result of hard work by PLI partner NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and that state’s Reproductive Justice Inside coalition. In many states across the country, correctional facilities have inconsistent or improper healthcare policies that tend to deny the rights and deteriorate the health of female inmates. They need a law like this one.
Also enacted in Maryland were HB 797/SB 598, which will require correctional facilities to have a policy and procedure in place to provide menstrual hygiene products at no cost and enough in stock to meet the needs of inmates. In the summer of 2017, the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced they would provide free menstrual pads and tampons for federal inmates. This only affected about ten percent of the relevant prison population since the great majority are housed in state and local facilities. Colorado, Nebraska and New York City have similar policies in place, while legislators in Arizona introduced and in Virginia passed similar bills during the 2018 legislative sessions.
Maryland already has an anti-shackling law on the books but, surprising, only 19 states address shackling of pregnant inmates and six do not ban or restrict shackling inmates in labor. The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act was introduced in 2017 to address this at the federal level.
Incarcerated individuals are among the most marginalized populations and their access to reproductive health care is often limited or nonexistent. Even when there are institutional policies, many women are never informed of their rights. Abortion, access to menstrual health products, prenatal care, or shackle-free birthing are human rights that must not be denied.