In the already high-risk prison environment, incarcerated pregnant women are facing new challenges in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade reversal, according to The Hill.
It was difficult even before the High Court’s new ruling for incarcerated women to access basic and essential healthcare items, including menstrual products, not to speak of reproductive care or abortions.
“Roe’s overturning significantly complicates an already difficult situation, raising questions of how women will be treated in federal facilities, state prisons and county jails that lie under different state laws,” wrote The Hill reporter Cheyanne M. Daniels in the July 9 article.
It is unclear whether federal prisons will follow their own rules and regulations, or those of the state hosting each facility, said the report.
Before the reversal, incarcerated women had a right to abortion, but rules and regulations varied between federal, state and even county facilities, according to Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, obstetrician and director of the Advocacy and Research on Reproductive Wellness in Incarcerated People at Johns Hopkins University.
As a result, incarcerated women faced often-insurmountable difficulties accessing reproductive health services, especially in states with tight restrictions on abortions.
Even when abortion services were legally accessible, incarcerated women faced the additional obstacle of paying for the procedure and transportation to medical facilities where the procedure would be performed—typically $500, said the article.
The difficulty was particularly acute in “abortion deserts,” which are areas or states where only one or two clinics are available.
“Such deserts will be expanded by Roe’s reversal,” wrote Daniels.
“Overturning Roe v. Wade is going to make a bad situation even worse for this population,” said Sufrin. “If someone is pregnant and incarcerated in a state where abortion is illegal, they don’t have the freedom of movement to try to travel to another state where abortion is legal. Maybe they would get released from jail while still pregnant, but they might be too far along at that point to try to organize the logistics of going to an abortion-supported state.”
The reversal of Roe v. Wade will also impact women on post-release supervision.
“There are travel restrictions for people on probation or parole,” said Chelsea Moore, policy director for Dream Corps Justice. “If you want to leave even your county, but especially your state, you have to get permission from your community custody officer. If you live in a state where you would need to travel to get an abortion, that’s going to be near impossible.”
“Women of color are statistically more likely to seek an abortion and to be incarcerated, highlighting why advocates worry they could be hurt by the decision,” said The Hill.
Sufrin is concerned that “vigilante policing” of pregnant women could force them to resort to self-managed abortions, and even greater incarceration.
Moore expressed the same concern. “The criminalization of abortion is going to further drive mass incarceration. And anytime we see any form of new criminalization, it inevitably disproportionately impacts Black and indigenous people of color,” she said.
“We need to demand more of our legislators,” Moore added. “We need to let them know that this is an issue that we care about, that the issue of overturning Roe is not disconnected from the mass incarceration crisis that we’re experiencing. It’s related to it and it’s going to compound it and we’re tired of locking up people and throwing away the key and devastating Black and indigenous communities of color.”