RALEIGH — Today Governor Cooper signed “The Dignity for Women Who Are Incarcerated Act,” a law that puts in place additional protections for people who are pregnant while incarcerated in North Carolina jails and prisons. The bill limits shackling of pregnant people from the second trimester of pregnancy until six weeks postpartum and ensures infants have proper medical and parental care before and after birth.
“This victory belongs to the currently and formerly incarcerated people who have fought for this statewide change for many years while enduring cruel and dangerous conditions in our jails and prisons,” said Susanna Birdsong, North Carolina Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “Access to health care is a basic human right and it must be extended to all North Carolinians. This legislation is an important step to ensuring pregnant people and their babies have the care they need while incarcerated. We applaud the General Assembly for passing this bill and Governor Cooper for signing it into law.”
The legislation also includes important provisions for pregnancy-specific nutritional requirements, access to menstrual products, facilitation of maternal-infant bonding, and limitations on invasive body cavity searches.
A bipartisan group of legislators sponsored the bill, including Representatives Dr. Kristen Baker, Ashton Clemmons, and Senator Amy Galey. The legislation gained support from a broad coalition of organizations and advocates including SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the North Carolina OB/GYN Society, the North Carolina Hospital Association, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, the ACLU of North Carolina, Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform, and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, physical restraints used to shackle an incarcerated person before, during, and after labor endanger the health of the woman and fetus and “interfere with the ability of health care providers to safely practice medicine.”
As of 2015, 2,292 women were incarcerated in North Carolina jails. 1,980 women were incarcerated in state prisons as of this year. People of color are disproportionately incarcerated in North Carolina. Black people represent roughly 23% of the general population in the state but account for approximately 52% of the prison population.
34 states have already passed legislation that restricts shackling of pregnant people, including Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Virginia, Texas, West Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina.