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How Overturning Roe v. Wade Will Make Inmate Abortions Difficult

The situation for many pregnant incarcerated women who are seeking abortions became a lot worse when the Supreme Court removed constitutional abortion protections in June. With many pregnant inmates regularly facing dire circumstances, including being denied abortions or being forced to give birth while shackled, experts warn that the overturn of Roe v Wade will now result in even more severe consequences for an already marginalized community, reports the Guardian. From 1980 to 2020, the number of incarcerated women across the country increased by over 475 percent, according to the Sentencing Project. As of two years ago, the imprisonment rate for Black women was 1.7 times the rate of imprisonment for white women. Meanwhile, Latinx women were imprisoned at 1.3 times the rate of white women. The Prison Policy Initiative found that an average of 58,000 people are pregnant each year when they enter local jails or prisons. Many of the states that already have the highest female state imprisonment rates also now have strict abortion laws that ban the procedure almost entirely. "People experiencing incarceration and pregnancy in states where abortion has been severely restricted or outlawed altogether will likely face new barriers as jails and prisons seek to hide behind the supreme court’s decision to avoid their constitutional obligation to provide healthcare (including abortion) to people in custody,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

A study led by Carolyn Sufrin, the director of the Advocacy and Research on Reproductive Wellness of Incarcerated People program at Johns Hopkins University, surveyed incarcerated people’s abortion access across 22 state prison systems and six county jail systems. The study found that there were already a myriad of obstacles such as self-payment requirements that can prevent a pregnant inmate from obtaining care. Out of the 19 states that then permitted abortions, two-thirds required the pregnant inmate to pay. Only 11 of the 816 pregnancies in state and federal prisons that ended during the study time period were abortions. Many incarcerated women remain behind bars because they are unable to afford bail. As a result, self-payment requirements for those seeking abortions are often times difficult to fulfill. “State prison systems or jails sometimes would force pregnant people to pay for the procedure, sometimes including even the cost of transport or the time to have prison guards with them, which is problematic because normally if an incarcerated person is going off-site for any other medical procedure, they wouldn’t be charged for the cost of transport or the time for the guards,” said Corene Kendrick of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, “Prisons or jails will argue…that’s an elective procedure so we are not going to cover it,” That will force many incarcerated pregnant women who are unable to cover the procedure to carry their pregnancies to term.


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