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Shackling of Women Prisoners During Labor and Delivery Ended In California

by John E. Dannenberg

California's Governor Schwarzenegger improved health care for women prisoners by signing AB 478 into law, which makes it illegal to deny prenatal and postpartum care (to include basic dental cleaning) and bans shackling during labor and delivery in a locked hospital ward. Assembly Member Sally Lieber (D - San Jose), author of AB 478, noted that The United Nations has established minimum rules for treatment of prisoners and California has not been following them.

The American College of Obstreticians and Gynecologists weighed in, stating, Physical restraints have interfered with the ability of physicians to safely practice medicine by reducing their ability to assess and evaluate the physical condition of the mother and the fetus, and have similarly made the labor and delivery process more difficult than it needs to be; thus, overall putting the health and lives of the women and unborn children at risk.

The California Medical Association added, Prenatal care has consistently been shown to be a cost-effective tool in preventing birth defects and protecting the health of the infant and the mother. Additionally, shackling of a prisoner during childbirth may be unnecessarily uncomfortable and dangerous for the female inmate, while providing little additional public safety protections.

Lieber lamented, It is inconceivable in this day and age, that human beings would be shackled while giving birth." But from the state that brought you 24 hour/day double-guarding of brain-dead prisoners shackled to their hospital beds (see: PLN, July 2005, p.24), maybe one shouldn't be so shocked. With broad support from the Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, ACLU, National Association of Social Workers, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Planned Parenthood, California Catholic Conference, California Association for Nurse Practitioners, Family Council, Friends Committee on Legislation and California National Organization for Women, the California Legislature, splitting largely along party lines, voted over 2 to 1 to pass the bill. Apparently, Republican tough-on-crime mongers would rather augur for future votes than uphold the United Nations' human rights conventions.

Source: Medical News Today.

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