Each year, thousands of pregnant women enter jail or prison. Most will spend their pregnancies behind bars.
A 2010 survey of women's prisons found that only eight states provided prenatal medical exams, that nineteen provided proper prenatal nutrition and that only seventeen provided screenings and treatments for high-risk pregnancies. Moreover, a woman behind bars goes into labor and gives birth once a week, often shackled in chains and handcuffs.
Shackling a woman by her wrists and ankles hampers her ability to move to alleviate the pain of her contractions. This increases stress on the woman’s body and may decrease the flow of oxygen to her fetus. Medical professionals, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Nurse-Midwives and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, believe that shackling incarcerated pregnant women during labor and delivery is unsafe and dangerous to the health and lives of the mother and the baby.
As of June 2014, only 21 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have passed legislation that limit or ban the shackling of women in labor and delivery.
In 1997, Congress enacted the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). This act required states to terminate the legal rights of parents whose children had spent fifteen of the past twenty-two months in foster care. Once these rights are terminated, parents have no legal relationship with their children and are not permitted to have any contact with them. ASFA makes no exceptions for parents in state or federal prisons.
WORTH (Women on the Rise Telling HerStory) is collecting the stories and experiences of women who have experienced pregnancy while behind bars. We want to cover the vast range of experiences that women have while pregnant in prison, including:
· Pregnancy before prison/learning about pregnancy while in prison
· Medical care in prison
· The birth experience
· Special needs/medical issues/ ICU after birth
· The prison nursery experience
· Placing child with family members or friends to avoid foster care
· Foster care
· Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)
Partnering with Nation Inside, WORTH has created a website to share these video, audio and written accounts and a phone hotline where women can call to share their own stories. In addition, WORTH will also compile these stories into a book. Too often, issues of reproductive justice are separated from issues of incarceration. The website and the book will tie women's individual experiences to the broader issues reproductive justice (or injustice) behind prison walls.
These stories can be used to help push a state-by-state analysis of the intersections of reproductive justice and incarceration. In 2009, members of WORTH, other formerly incarcerated mothers and their allies took up the fight to outlaw the shackling of women in labor in New York State. Formerly incarcerated women spoke about being pregnant while in jail and prison, being handcuffed and shackled while in labor, being separated from their newborn babies almost immediately. Their stories drew public attention to the issue and put human faces to the pending legislation.
In Georgia and in Massachusetts, reproductive rights advocates, prisoner justice activists and formerly incarcerated women are currently pushing for legislation that would prohibit the practice of shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during transport, labor, delivery and recovery.
Stories and testimonies of women's pregnancies and birth experiences behind bars are powerful tools to have in hand when educating the general public and confronting legislators to support such a bill.
 According to a 2003 Department of Justice study, 6% of women entered local jails and 5% of women entered state prison pregnant. Given that 114,979 women were behind bars in mid-2009, this is a conservative estimate.
 Rebecca Project for Human Rights, and National Women's Law Center. 2010. Mothers Behind Bars: A State-by-State Report Card and Analysis of Federal Policies on Conditions of Confinement for Pregnant and Parenting Women and the Effect on Their Children. Washington, DC: Rebecca Project for Human Rights.
 SPARK, Reproductive Justice NOW, Giving Birth Behind Bars: A Guide to Achieving Reproductive Justice for Incarcerated Women. Atlanta, GA: SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, 2011. http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9041527/SJTA/Legislate%20THIS/SPARK_RESOURCE_INTERACTIVE_rev_02182011.pdf
 As of June 2014, 21 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia) have legislation limiting or prohibiting the shackling of incarcerated women during labor, childbirth and recovery. The Federal Bureau of Prisons also prohibits the shackling of women during labor and delivery. In January 2013, Iowa's Department of Corrections passed a policy prohibiting the restraint of pregnant women while incarcerated.
 Nebraska and New Mexico exclude incarcerated parents from ASFA’s time frame if the only reason to file for termination is because of parental incarceration. See Neb. Rev. Stat. 43-292.02(2)(b) and N.M. Stat. Ann. 1978, 32A-4-28(d). In 2010, after years of advocacy and lobbying by prison justice groups and formerly incarcerated people, New York passed the ASFA Expanded Discretion Act, allowing foster care agencies the discretion to delay filing papers to terminate the parental rights of parents who are incarcerated or enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program.