Kimberly Haven speaks to EBONY about reproductive justice for women in prison

May 16, 2024

“Being pregnant and giving birth are amongst the most memorable experiences in a woman’s life. The postpartum experience should be one of bonding between a mother and her child. However, this experience is much different for women who are in prison. Shackled until the moment they give birth—with only law enforcement and a doctor present, with no family or support person present—giving birth while incarcerated is one of the most inhumane experiences a woman can go through. The postpartum experience for incarcerated women is not one of mother to child bonding; the women are only given 24 to 48 hours with their newborn until their baby is taken away. And, they must also endure a period of lactating with no baby to breastfeed and heavy bleeding without access to proper menstrual products. Institutions don’t always give mothers who are in the postpartum phase unrestricted access to hygiene products commonly used by mothers after they give birth—underwear, large sanitary napkins, and other items. Some institutions also don’t have appropriate waste disposal receptacles for said items. …

Individuals in the care, custody, and control of the state do not know … their rights to care.

“‘Currently, we know that individuals in the care, custody, and control of the state do not know what to expect during their pregnancies, nor do they know their rights to care. Clear policies are needed to inform standards of care for pregnant people,’ says Kimberly Haven [Leading with Conviction™ 2020], a formerly incarcerated individual and Executive Director of Reproductive Justice Inside (RJI). ‘With the medical and legal expertise of members of our coalition, and informed by the voices of the directly impacted, [our organization] has developed the first comprehensive Model Pregnancy Policy manual that covers specific subjects such as pregnancy testing, prenatal care, high risk pregnancy care, miscarriage management, abortion care access, labor and delivery, postpartum care, counseling and social services.’

“Some facilities create systems so women can pump and store breast milk that can later be delivered to the infant, but most don’t allow this. RJI has launched a new initiative that will make it easy for institutions and an individual to pump, providing dedicated refrigerators to institutions. ‘Given everything we know about how important breast milk is for infants, the fact that this is not practice is for me unacceptable,’ said Haven. ‘Individuals should be given the opportunity, supplies, and education to pump their breast milk according to their bodies schedule and to make it available to the caregiver of their infant.’

“Through litigation and advocacy, Reproductive Justice Inside works to secure prenatal and postpartum healthcare rights in prisons and jails throughout the country, attempting to end the barbaric practice of women giving birth while shackled and protect the health of incarcerated women and their babies.

“‘Let’s make maternal health and healthy birth outcomes the priority,’ adds Haven.”

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