To champion the reproductive wellbeing of incarcerated women and to create a world where they can thrive in their communities.

ARRWIP’s Reflections on the Supreme Court’s Overturning of Roe v. Wade

 

As researchers, clinicians, and advocates for reproductive justice, we at ARRWIP are appalled by the Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs decision’s disregard for the reproductive wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities—the blatant contradictions of valuing a fetus over a pregnant person, of forcing people to birth into a society with no guaranteed paid parental leave, and so many other hypocrisies.  We share others’ concerns about the ways pregnant people will be increasingly criminalized for things like self-managing abortions, and recognize the ripple effect this will have.

 

Amid all of the reactions, we want to make sure incarcerated people who need abortions, as well as those on probation and parole, are not ignored. Make no mistake, abortion bans will disproportionately and negatively affect these people whose autonomy and access to health care is already restricted by virtue of their incarceration.

 

Under the protections of Roe v Wade, incarcerated pregnant people previously had a constitutional right to abortion like everyone else in the US. However, ARRWIP’s research has shown that even when abortion was a protected right in the US, it was not practically accessible to many incarcerated pregnant people. Many of them were already living in a post-Roe world. But post-Dobbs, things will be worse for pregnant people with criminal legal system involvement.

 

Here are just some of the ways that state abortion bans may impact pregnant people who are incarcerated or on probation or parole.

  • In states where abortion is illegal or severely restricted, people who are incarcerated do not have the freedom of movement to travel to another state for an abortion.
  • Pregnant individuals on probation and parole will likely not be able to travel to another state for an abortion if they reside somewhere where it is illegal.
  • It is unclear whether pregnant people in federal prisons in states where abortion is illegal will be transported to another state for an abortion.
  • When someone is raped by prison or jail staff and becomes pregnant, if they are in state where abortion is illegal even in cases of rape, it is unclear whether the facility will transport them to another state for abortion; there may be issues with compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
  • Even if someone gets released from prison or jail while pregnant and could theoretically travel to another state for an abortion, they may be too far along at that point, or may not be able to mobilize the travel resources in a timely fashion.
  • For incarcerated pregnant people in states where abortion remains legal, access may be even more difficult due to anticipated increased demands in these states from out-of-state patients.

 

Forcing a person to carry an unwanted pregnancy because they are incarcerated then conscripts them to endure pregnancy in an environment where they may not have access to quality prenatal care, where they may be shackled during childbirth, and where they are forced to be separated from their newborn immediately after giving birth. The pregnancy and potentially traumatizing conditions then become part of their punitive sentence, experiencing what Rachel Roth has called “a uniquely gendered form of punishment.” These traumas of forced birth will disproportionately impact, Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples, who are disproportionately incarcerated and who also suffer higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. ARRWIP will continue to research the impact of incarceration on abortion access and advocate for the importance of full-scope pregnancy care—including abortion—for people who are incarcerated.

 

See ARRWIP’s research articles on abortion access for incarcerated people, as well as media interviews on the potential impact of Dobbs including a Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine article on this topic featuring Carolyn Sufrin.

In 2020, there were nearly 153,000 women behind bars in the U.S., a 500% increase since 1980.

Most of them are of reproductive age. The majority are mothers and primary caregivers to young children, and they are disproportionately Black women and other people of color. Understanding their reproductive health status, care, and needs is essential for advancing reproductive health equity in our society.

Our research has estimated that there are an estimated 58,000 admissions of pregnant people to U.S. jails and prisons each year.

PIPS statistics

ARRWIP is a research group at Johns Hopkins University led by Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an obstetrician-gynecologist, researcher, medical anthropologist, and author of Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net for Women Behind Bars.  A national leader and advocate on reproductive health care for incarcerated women, she has been working on reproductive health issues among incarcerated people since 2006.

Jailcare book

Our goal is to create opportunities to improve reproductive wellbeing for people affected by the criminal legal system – including making full-scope, compassionate reproductive health care accessible for people experiencing incarceration and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.