There is little to no research or information available about reproductive wellbeing and choice for incarcerated women in Ohio. A complete gap exists in reporting on inmates’ access to adequate menstrual supplies, sexual education, OBGYN services, hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgery for transgender inmates, contraception, and abortion care for all state, federal or private jails and prisons. Historically, incarcerated women and girls have faced unique coercion and forced sterilization based on racist and patriarchal eugenic beliefs, pointing to the pressing need to investigate reproductive care practices in Ohio’s prison system.
While inmates have a legal right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, in practice there are many additional obstacles because of their incarceration. The ACLU of California recently published research on the state of reproductive rights in California prisons and jails, detailing the illegal and unethical practices that pregnant inmates are subjected to, such as treating abortions as “elective” (instead of “medically necessary”) procedures and requesting that inmates fill out forms describing their reason to terminate their pregnancies (Burlingame, Dawson, and Goodman, 2016). The ACLU report on California also discusses the ways correctional employees try to influence inmates, for example, by encouraging women and girls with substance abuse problems or who have multiple children to terminate their pregnancies (Burlingame, Dawson, and Goodman, 2016). Although this research is not about Ohio, the infringements on incarcerated women’s and girls’ right to choose in California could foreseeably take place in any prison system. Ohio should investigate the state of choice for incarcerated women to make certain their rights are protected.
Many states have very few or no restrictions on shackling pregnant inmates throughout their pregnancy and during labor and delivery. Shackling during labor and delivery is degrading, inhumane, and often painful; it is also dangerous to both the fetus and mother. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “shackling interferes with the ability of physicians to safely practice medicine and is ‘demeaning and unnecessary’” (ACLU). The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s most recent policy is that pregnant inmates in labor should be handcuffed while being transported to the hospital and will be restrained with leg irons while on the hospital bed (Ohio DRC, 2009). During the actual delivery the policy mandates that “no restraints shall be applied to the pregnant inmate” (Ohio DRC, 2009). After the delivery the woman or girl is to be restrained to her bed with leg irons and shall be restrained with leg irons when walking as long as she is not holding the infant (Ohio DRC, 2009). If the child is not returning to the institution then the inmate is shackled with full restraints upon return from the hospital. Only a small amount of inmates in particular programs are permitted to have their baby return to the correctional facility and remain in their custody. Assuming the DRC’s policy is followed exactly, pregnant inmates are shackled through labor until the active delivery phase and then immediately restrained post-delivery. These shackling policies pose a threat to incarcerated women and girls in Ohio.
Ohio does have a nursery program for incarcerated mothers who have children in prison that allows them to stay with their infants. The program is called the Achieving Baby Care Success (ABC’S) Nursery; it provides parenting instruction, allowing the incarcerated mothers to keep custody of their children (Ohio DRC, 2015). The program has strict qualifications for participation. As of October 2014 there were only four female inmates in the program across Ohio (Ohio DRC, 2014).