HARRISBURG- The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee passed legislation today to ban the shackling of pregnant inmates during childbirth in the commonwealth's state prisons and county jails. Senate Bill 1074, which is also known as the Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act, sailed through the committee with a unanimous vote. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania joined a chorus of advocates praising the committee for its decisive action.
"All women, including those who are incarcerated, deserve to be treated with dignity when they bring a child into the world," said Carol Petraitis, director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania's Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project. "Handcuffing a woman to a bed while she goes through childbirth is unnecessary and archaic."
Senator Daylin Leach of Montgomery County introduced SB 1074 last fall, and the state Senate unanimously passed the bill in March. It now heads to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.
Last month Washington became the seventh state to sign similar legislation into law. If SB 1074 passes the House and is signed by Governor Rendell, Pennsylvania would also join Texas, New Mexico, New York, California, Illinois, and Vermont among the states that have banned the practice via state law. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and the federal Marshalls Service also have policies that block the shackling of inmates during childbirth.
"Around the country, policymakers are waking up to the fact that mothers are shackled in prisons and jails," Petraitis said. "We're grateful that legislators in Pennsylvania want to change that."
While advocates are not able to quantify how many times inmates in childbirth have been shackled in Pennsylvania's prisons, there is enough anecdotal evidence to indicate the need for the legislation, Petraitis said.
Other organizations joining the ACLU of Pennsylvania in support of SB 1074 include the Pennsylvania Prison Society, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, the Women's Law Project, Pennsylvania NOW, New Voices Pittsburgh, the Maternity Care Coalition, and Women's Way.