Maryland Bills Mandate Better Health Care for Pregnant Inmates

Maryland Bills Mandate Better Health Care for Pregnant Inmates

Last week, the Maryland General Assembly approved a bill that would require all state correctional facilities to have written medical-care policies for incarcerated pregnant women—the first of its kind in the country, according to NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland.

Under the new legislation, which goes into effect in October, all facilities must submit to a legislative commission—and, importantly, to incarcerated patients—a written policy regarding things like prenatal care, abortion access, and labor and delivery. Incarcerated women are often afraid to ask for needed care like pregnancy testing or emergency miscarriage management, says Diana Philip, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, or they might not even be aware of their rights. The requirement of a written policy clarifies for both patients and prison employees what kind of care pregnant inmates are entitled to receive. “I think one of the great things about this bill is that the person who is pregnant will be handed that policy,” Philip told the Prospect.

The state legislature also passed a bill that would provide inmates with free menstrual hygiene products. “Incarcerated women have limited resources and are often forced to deal with poor conditions,” Philip said in a statement. While she acknowledges that there remains the challenge of monitoring facilities’ adherence to policies, “[b]oth of these bills take a step in the right direction to ensure their basic needs are met.”

As states across the nation try to handle their growing female prison populations, reproductive-rights advocates have been shining a light on the treatment of detained and incarcerated women who are pregnant. According to New York magazine, six states (Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Utah) still allow the shackling of female inmates while they’re in labor, a practice that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says “may not only compromise health care but is demeaning and rarely necessary.” North Carolina recently revised its policy on restraints, prohibiting the use of leg or waist restraints when the inmate is in labor, and Connecticut lawmakers have introduced a bill that would bar such restraints during pregnancy or the postpartum period, and prohibit the use of any restraints during labor. The Connecticut bill would also require the state to provide incarcerated women with menstrual hygiene products free of charge.

Pregnant women in immigration detention have also struggled with lack of quality medical care, their numbers having risen since the Trump administration’s decision in December to reverse the federal policy of releasing pregnant women from custody. Immigrant-rights and reproductive-rights groups have expressed concern about inadequate medical care, and advocates have sounded the alarm about Scott Lloyd, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who has repeatedly attempted to prevent undocumented pregnant teenagers from seeking abortions.