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New California bill targets pregnant inmate health care

pregnant inmates incarcerated people women better improved health care rob bonta assemblyman california AB 732 prenatal postpartum abortion miscarriages
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Story at a glance

  • California bill AB 732 would amend the Penal Code to improve treatment of pregnant women who are incarcerated.
  • This comes after a lawsuit alleged maltreatment of pregnant women in Alameda County and a scathing 2016 ACLU report of pregnant women’s conditions in jail.
  • Some of the benefits would be required prenatal care, such as vitamins, and eliminating the use of solitary confinement or tasers.

A California state lawmaker proposed a bill that would offer better protections for incarcerated pregnant women. 

Assemblyman Rob Bonta of District 18 (Oakland) authored a bill titled AB 732, also referred to as the “Reproductive Dignity for Incarcerated People Act,” which works to ensure proper heath care for pregnant people who are in jail or prison as amendments to the California Penal Code. 

In a description, Bonta says that the bill would effectively expand pregnant inmates’ rights, requiring regular prenatal care and services, postpartum evaluations and checkups, as well as allow the pregnant person the option to have a “support person” to help guide them through childbirth. 

After a recent class-action lawsuit was filed against the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County that alleged inmates were provided insufficient medical care that resulted in three miscarriages and a woman giving birth in an isolation cell was filed in 2018, Bonta introduced the first draft of his bill in February 2019. 

A 2016 report conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU) painted a bleak picture of the health care pregnant women have access to while behind bars. Testimonials of pregnant inmates stated they were subject to delayed abortions, a lack of prenatal care and shackling during labor. 

One woman described her delivery involving restraints and even a chain around her ankle. “The way I was treated after my delivery was humiliating. I understand that I’m incarcerated, but I’m still human. I’m a mother, and I just wanted to be treated with some dignity. It was a horrible experience.”

It will also formally prohibit the use of tasers or pepper spray on pregnant individuals and provide lower bunk privileges, prenatal vitamins, methadone treatment and social worker consultations. Abortion services would also be required — free of coercion — and the law would ban pregnant inmates from being placed in solitary confinement. 

The bill is currently sponsored by a plethora of advocacy organizations, such as the ACLU of California, the Women’s Policy Institute of the Women’s Foundation of California, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and Young Women’s Freedom Center.

“Pregnant people who are incarcerated often receive biased, coercive information about their reproductive options, get substandard prenatal and postnatal care that endangers their health, and are denied reasonable accommodations that help ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy,” according to the ACLU of Southern California. 

Bonta’s bill was recently amended on Jan. 23, and was approved by California’s Assembly Appropriations Committee and will likely be up for vote later this year. 


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