ARRWIP Reflections

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supreme court

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.

covid 19

COVID-19 Reflections

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate and negative impact on people who are incarcerated. We support efforts to de-populate institutions of incarceration as a sound public health measure to protect the wellbeing of people behind bars– especially for pregnant people. Read ARRWIP director Carolyn Sufrin’s op-ed in USA Today on why we should be prioritizing pregnant folks for release during COVID-19.

​We recommend the following resources to learn more about COVID-19 and incarcerated people:

BLM reflection

In Solidarity Fighting Racial Injustice

As researchers who gather data in order to advocate for reproductive health care for people behind bars, the ARRWIP team recognizes the murders of unarmed Black and Brown people as acts of violence by law enforcement that have centuries’ long history in this country.  Such police violence and the systemic racism and white supremacist structures from which it arises are– and always have been– public and individual health crises. And they are the same forces that have shaped mass incarceration, which disproportionately confines and harms Black and Brown communities. This is why the work we do is not merely about improving reproductive health services in carceral institutions—it is connected to the broader work of reproductive and racial justice that seeks to dismantle our reliance on institutions of incarceration, to dismantle racism within health care institutions and beyond.  We support Black Lives Matter, and stand in solidarity with others opposing racism in all its forms.

speaking and listening

Using person-centered language

ARRWIP uses humanizing language when talking about people who experience incarceration. That means not using labels like “inmate,” “felon,” “offender,” and other fixed terms that define a person solely according to their confinement status. Instead, we use “person experiencing incarceration,” or “incarcerated individual.” For more information and guidance on language, see this resource from the Fortune Society and this article.

We prefer to use the term “criminal legal system” instead of “criminal justice system,” as there are many things that are not just about this system.

We acknowledge that people with the capacity to be pregnant do not all identify as women, and that people of all gender identities have reproductive health needs. We aim to use gender inclusive language, such as pregnant individual instead of pregnant woman, pregnant capable people, and also refer to “women” when appropriate for the situation.