How many women are forced to give birth in solitary confinement?

We the people must be persuaded that no child should be born in a solitary confinement cell. We the people must be persuaded that no woman should have to give birth while in solitary confinement. Who are we? We are the United States of America. In this man’s land, pregnant women prisoners have less than no reproductive justice or rights. Instead of care, they receive neglect and abuse that crosses over into torture.

Last week, Nicole Guerrero filed a lawsuit against the Wichita County Jail, in Texas, and others for having forced her to give birth in solitary. The baby died. It’s a terrible story, and it’s an increasingly common one. While much of the focus has been, and will be, on the details of the case, consider as well the larger, national framework. Nicole Guerrero is not an exception. She is the face of the everyday violence against women, and in particular against pregnant women, in the prisons and jails of the United States.

Last year, in response to the Pelican Bay hunger strike in California, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, found nearly 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, although the numbers are difficult to determine. He urged the United States to suspend prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement and to consider the rights and needs of the vulnerable: “I urge the US Government to adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances, including an absolute ban of solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, persons with psychosocial disabilities or other disabilities or health conditions, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers as well as those serving a life sentence and prisoners on death row.”

Pregnant women, women with infants, breastfeeding mothers: these are the most recent targets of mass incarceration, those charged with “fetal endangerment.” As charges against pregnant women both rise and intensify, more and more pregnant women are going into the prison system, and the vast majority end up in local and county jails, or in State prisons, like the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama. Inevitably, more women will undergo childbirth in solitary, and more children will be born in solitary.

When Delegate Mary Washington, of Baltimore, first heard of a pregnant woman prisoner, en route to the hospital, being shackled, she said, “Wait. What? What do you mean … shackled?” The woman telling herthe story explained she meant exactly what she said. Pregnant women prisoners, women prisoners in childbirth, are routinely shackled. It’s part of the new normal.

Nicole Guerrero is a signature of the next phase of that new normal. She is neither anomaly nor exception, and despite her pain, anguish and suffering, she is not the stuff of high drama. The national history of infamy is not made up of tragedy, but rather an endless series of ordinary episodes that combine to form normalcy. Our normalcy. We are the people who demand to be persuaded that there’s something wrong with a system that forces women to go through childbirth while in solitary confinement. We are the people who demand to be persuaded that the destruction of women is a bad thing. Remember that.


(Photo Credit:

Women need more than a day to become visible and full human beings

March 8 was International Women’s Day. Two recent events in the United States show that we need more than a day to establish women’s rights.

While bills to ban shackling pregnant women in custody were being discussed in both Maryland and in Massachusetts, a Virginian lawmaker declared, “Once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.” After being roundly criticized, he said that his words were taken out of context and what he really meant was bearer instead of host.

Meanwhile, in Maryland at the hearing of HB 27 Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act, lawmakers pondered how to “manage pregnant women” in prison. They focused on security issues for guards and the general public and what possible incidents could occur if pregnant inmate walk without shackles. Responding to a delegate’s question on the history of escape by pregnant inmates, one witness for the Department of Public Safety said, “ We are not aware of any incident like this but we want to make sure.”

As they debated whether the bill was not too lenient on pregnant inmates, a delegate wondered, “How do we go back about writing a bill? Precisely what is the nature of the security issues?” Again the Department reported zero incidents. Throughout the discussions of `safety and security’, the actual facts and realities of being incarcerated while pregnant and possibly being shackled became invisible and the safety of the women was of no concern.

All that changed with the testimony of Delegate Mary Washington, the Bill’s sponsor; Sara Love, Public Policy Director of ACLU Maryland; and Jacquie Robarge, Executive Director of Power Inside, an organization that “serves women impacted by incarceration.”

Jacquie shared a report from inmates who witnessed pregnant women shackled during transport. No officials take notice of the lived situations of incarcerated women. A code of silence permeates prisons and jails, and so the only way to know what is happening comes from other inmates. That is why such a bill is necessary. For lawmakers, however, the main point of contention was to make sure that the “host” could be controlled at any time.

In Virginia, State Senator Steve Martin’s `host’ response to the valentines’ card sent by reproductive rights advocates, via Facebook, reminded women that their reproductive capacity made them less than a full being in a state that claims to protect democratic values. It comes as no surprise that Senator Martin supported both the mandatory ultrasound bill as well as the personhood bill. Fortunately, the `hosts’ organized and defeated both bills.

The Maryland and Virginia examples reveal the position of women in the minds of too many lawmakers today. Women need more than a day to become visible and full human beings.

(Photo Credit: Grassroots Leadership)

Massachusetts Stops Shackling Women (Prisoners) in Childbirth!


Yesterday, we asked, “Will Massachusetts stop shackling women prisoners in childbirth?” Today, the Governor gave his answer. Yes! Governor Duval Patrick today said, “We will end finally, completely and immediately the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in labor.” Yes!

The struggle does not end with the Governor’s regulation. As Senator Karen Spilka, who sponsored the bill currently in the Massachusetts legislature, noted, “It’s not necessary, it’s inhumane, and it can be very detrimental to the woman and the baby. We need to codify this to strongly send a message that we are a state that treats our women humanely and wants to foster their health and wellness.”

Or, as Governor Patrick succinctly said, “Regulation is good, but here law is better.”

The bill puts the shackling of women prisoners in childbirth in the context of pregnant women’s rights to well being, to decent and affirmative health care. Shackling pregnant women is inhumane and misogynistic. It hates women as women.

Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Kay Khan, along with the women and men of ACLU, NARAL, The Prison Birth Project, and others will keep the struggle going for passage of the legislation. But for today … YES! Yes, women prisoners are women. Yes, it is wrong to shackle pregnant women. Yes, it is right to support women’s right to health, well being, and being women. Yes!


(Image Credit: RadicalDoula)

Will Massachusetts Stop Shackling Women Prisoners in Childbirth?


Massachusetts and Maryland legislatures are considering abolishing the practice of shackling women prisoners in childbirth. Last Friday, the Massachusetts legislature moved, inched, a little closer to banning the practice: “In a step toward joining the 18 states that have passed legislation restricting the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Safety has released a bill that would prohibit such shackling in Massachusetts during labor and childbirth, post-delivery recuperation, and transportation to the hospital. The bill, sponsored by Senator Karen Spilka, has now passed the first hurdle to passage.”

This bill has languished in committee for ten years. Each year, it would come up in the House, be assigned to the Judiciary Committee, and sit. Each year that happened, for ten years. Finally, this year, Senator Karen Spilka said enough already, and moved the legislation in the Senate. Last Friday, it moved out of committee.

The bill does more than end shackling, although that would be something in itself. It “promotes safe pregnancies for female inmates.” The authors of the bill understand that shackling women prisoners is part of a program to deny that pregnant women prisoners are, indeed, women who are pregnant. Childbirth is childbirth is childbirth. Women should never be shackled during childbirth.

Yet they are.

Marianne Bullock is Co-Founder, with Lisa Andrews, of The Prison Birth Project. She has worked in Western Massachusetts with over 100 pregnant women prisoners: “Passing this bill is crucial. Ending the practice of shackling and restraint of pregnant, laboring and postpartum women in Massachusetts will allow mothers throughout the commonwealth to give birth with dignity—free of restraint.”

Senator Karen Spilka argued, “Shackling pregnant women interferes with a physician’s ability to treat mothers and their newborns, and it is an inhumane, unacceptable practice. This bill is an important and necessary step toward improving reproductive health for female prisoners and ensuring safe, healthy outcomes for women and their babies.” She added, “It still is amazing to me that in 2014 we have to work to even pass such a bill. I believe very strongly we need a single standard in these situations when women are pregnant and incarcerated, and the standard should be no shackles.”

The standard must be no shackles. If Massachusetts passes the bill, and that’s not at all a foregone conclusion, it will become the 19th state to do so. In more than half of the United States, the simple truth that women in childbirth should not be shackled is neither simple nor true. Whether the ordinary and everyday spectacle of the shackled woman in childbirth reiterates the motif of slavery or that of the witch-hunt, the point is it must end. Now. The alibi of modernity expressed in the surprise that in 2014 we still have this work to do must be set aside, and instead of surprise, we should be ashamed and disgusted with ourselves, for living in a place and time where women in childbirth are shackled. Stop shackling pregnant women now!


(Image Credit: RadicalDoula)

Shackling the birthing, dead and dying: All in a day’s work

Juana Villegas

Juana Villegas

Which is worse, the use of chains and shackles to confine the most vulnerable in times of crisis or the fact that the usage has become routine? Ask pregnant women prisoners across the United States. Ask terminally ill, hospitalized, disabled and even dead prisoners in the United Kingdom.

Last month the Nevada Prison Board voted to stop shackling and otherwise `restraining’ women prisoners in labor, in delivery, and in post-delivery recuperation. This decision resulted from a lawsuit brought by Valorie Nabors, with the ACLU. Nabors had been an inmate at the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center. She went into labor and was placed in leg shackles in the ambulance. Ten minutes after giving birth to a daughter, Nabors was again placed in shackles. Valorie Nabors and her attorneys argued, apparently convincingly, that she suffered injury when doing doctor prescribed rehabilitative exercises while shackled.

Juana Villegas has lived a related story. In 2008, nine months pregnant, Mexican, undocumented, Villegas was picked up in a traffic stop in suburban Nashville. Under `an arrangement’ between Davidson County and Federal authorities, Villegas was detained for six days. Villegas went into labor, was taken to the hospital, where she was chained to a bed, during labor and during recovery. She has since sued for damages and recently won, not only financial compensation but also, possibly, a resident visa.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, prisoners literally at death’s door, prisoners living with paralyzing and debilitating disabilities, are shackled, not only when taken to hospital but also during their stay. Michael Tyrrell, dying from cancer and too weak to move; Kyal Gaffney, diagnosed with leukemia, unconscious due to a brain hemorrhage; Daniel Roque Hall, 30, in intensive care, wasting away, and barely able to use arms or legs: these are typical of the `security risks’ that required not only chains and shackles but three prison guards … each.

And then there’s `Lucy’. In 2007, Lucy was transported to hospital for a recurring and serious gynecological problem. Although Lucy had no history of violence and had actually just returned from a daylong release on license, she was handcuffed to a male and a female officer en route to the hospital and while at the hospital. During the interview with the doctor, Lucy was handcuffed to both officers. When the doctor said he would be doing an internal examination, the male prison guard said he would have to remain in the examination room. At last, the doctor convinced the male officer to handcuff Lucy to the examining table and wait outside. Throughout the entire internal examination, the female officer remained handcuffed to Lucy.

That the global prison has produced a boom niche market in chains and shackles is horrible enough. Worse is that the shackling has become routine. Prison guards routinely shackle women in childbirth and women and men on deathbeds, and then go home to their families and communities. Medical professionals routinely tend to shackled women in childbirth and shackled women and men on their deathbeds, and then go home to their families and communities. It’s all in a day’s work.


(Photo Credit: The New York Times / Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

Prison is bad for pregnant women and other living things


A report entitled Expecting Change: the case for ending the immigration detention of pregnant women was released today. It describes the nightmare that is Yarl’s Wood. The report bristles in its portrait of a system built of violence, planned inefficiencies and incompetence, and general disregard for women. You should read this report.

At the same time, a question haunts the report. So much of it is commonsensical that one feels compelled to wonder about the groundwork and horizons of social justice research. Here’s an example: “Asylum seeking women have poorer maternity outcomes than the general population. Many women in the sample were victims of rape, torture and trafficking.” The vast majority of women asylum seekers are fleeing sexual and other forms of violence, and so it comes as no surprise that they have poorer maternity outcomes than the general population. They also have poorer health outcomes generally, including mental and emotional health. They are asylum seekers.

On the one hand, we could discuss `the system’. We could talk about the planning that goes into systematically “failing to recognize” and “failing to appreciate” the particularities of women prisoners’ lives and situations. We could talk about the political economy of that planned failure, about who benefits and howbut we’ve done that already.

Instead, let’s imagine. Imagine what we could be researching and developing if we weren’t constantly working to undo over three decades of intensive, systematic and, for a very few, profitable mass incarceration.

Here’s where we are today. We have to conduct a multi-year study to prove that pregnant women asylum seekers shouldn’t be in prison.

We have to conduct other studies to prove that prison is an inappropriate place for children seeking asylum. We have to conduct another series of studies to suggest that maybe prison isn’t the best place for children, and that adult prison might be an even worse option. We need another multi-year study to `prove’ that sexual violence against children in juvenile prisons is epidemic. We need that same study to `demonstrate’ that the majority of acts of violence against those children, our children, were perpetrated by adult staff members.

We need another study to prove that the reason that self-harm and hunger strikes are so common, so everyday, in immigrant prisons is that the conditions are inhuman and dire. Prisoners have given up hope as they refuse to give up hope. We need many studies to demonstrate adequately that LGBT immigrants suffer inordinately in immigration prisons, and we need many more studies to demonstrate that the same is true for immigrants who live with disabilities. And then of course we’ll need more studies to prove that immigrant prisoners living with HIV have a tough time behind bars. We’ll need studies to prove that the prisons for immigrants and migrants and asylum seekers are extraordinarily cruel, and then we’ll need other studies to prove that the cruelty of those prisons is actually quite normal, and quite like the cruelty of all the other prisons.

We’ll need studies to prove that immigration prisons embody the architecture of xenophobia, and we’ll need other studies to prove that the asylum system is “flawed”. We’ll need other studies to understand that the xenophobia and the flaws are gendered. And then we’ll need meta-studies that will analyze the curious phenomenon of the complete lack of improvement. These studies will note, with compassion, that after decades of detailed research, the prisons are still hell.

I am grateful for the work scholars have performed. It’s often impossible work, and yet individuals and groups, such as those at Medical Justice who produced today’s study, do that work, and do it with grace. At the same time, imagine. Imagine what we could be researching and learning if we weren’t still drowning in our own Hundred Years’ War of Mass Incarceration. Imagine.


(Image Credit: Medical Justice)

La torture dans tous ces Etats américains

Dans la même semaine la torture a été à l’honneur deux fois aux Etats Unis. Tout d’abord Asa Hutchinson, un ancien représentant républicain au Congrès, ancien sous-secrétaire d’Etat  au département de la sécurité intérieure sous le gouvernement George W. Bush, et un des deux rapporteurs de la commission d’étude sur le traitement des détenus après le 11 Septembre, a présenté à la presse le rapport qui conclu officiellement que les Etats Unis, sous la présidence de G W Bush, ont pratiqué la torture pour interroger ses prisonniers après les attentats du 11septembre.

Il a déclare : “We found that U.S. personnel, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture. American personnel conducted an even larger number of interrogations that involved cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. Both categories of actions violate U.S. laws and international treaty obligations.”

« Nous avons constaté que le personnel américain, dans de nombreux cas, a utilisé des techniques d’interrogation des détenus qui constituent une torture. Le personnel américain a mené un plus grand nombre d’interrogations qui ont impliqué un traitement cruel, inhumain ou dégradant. Les deux catégories d’actions violent les lois américaines et les obligations des traités internationaux. »

Parallèlement, la chambre de l’Etat du Maryland (un Etat mitoyen de Washington) a refusé d’examiner en dernière partie de session pour l’année 2013 une loi qui aurait interdit d’entraver les femmes enceintes emprisonnées dans le Maryland durant les deux derniers semestres et l’accouchement. Les autorités pénitentiaires assurent que cette loi n’est pas utile puisque les femmes ne seraient attachées qu’en cas de nécessité.

Les associations de défenses des femmes prisonnières, telle que Power Inside, ont fourni des témoignages accablants démontrant que les femmes étaient très souvent entravées. Cela laisse à penser que les cas de nécessité sont donc fondés sur des paramètres qui ne respectent en rien la dignité de ces femmes.

Quelques données nous permettent de comprendre que les standards d’humanité sont déplacés. Un tiers des femmes emprisonnées dans le monde le sont aux Etats Unis. Dans trente deux Etats il est légal d’enchainer ou de menotter des femmes enceintes y compris lors de l’accouchement. Les mères font parties de la population carcérale dont le nombre augmente le plus rapidement. Bien souvent, on emprisonne les femmes avant leur procès, par exemple, dans le Maryland, à Baltimore 90% des femmes incarcérées, dont 79% sont noires, attendent d’être jugées. De plus la grande majorité des femmes sont envoyées en prison pour des crimes non-violents.

La loi actuelle dit que dans le Maryland les menottes, les entraves ou chaines pour les jambes et le ventre peuvent être utilisées pour maitriser/contrôler les femmes enceintes pendant le transport, le travail, l’accouchement et les suites d’accouchement.

Les témoignages sont là, Angela a eu les mains et pieds attachés pendant son transport a l’hôpital et une grande partie du travail et ce n’est que sur l’insistance du docteur qu’elle a accouche sans chaine, de même Danielle raconte son accouchement attachée et humiliée avec plusieurs voyages a l’hôpital toujours avec des entraves aux chevilles et aux mains.

Il nous faut reconsidérer ce que torture veut dire. Avons nous besoin de lois internationales pour imposer aux Etats Unis de traiter les femmes enceintes incarcérées avec respect. La grossesse constitue un grand moment de vulnérabilité pour les femmes défavorisées en général. De plus les lois sont aussi punitives que les aides sociales manquent gravement et que la précarité augmente.

Déjà en 2010 le rapport sur le respect par les Etats-Unis de ses obligations en matière de droits de l’homme dans le domaine de la santé reproductive et sexuelle remis pour revue aux Nations Unis, faisait état de la torture quotidienne infligée aux femmes les plus vulnérables.

Malgré tout, dans le Maryland la loi qui aurait protégé les femmes enceintes emprisonnées est restée sans suite.


(Photo Credit: Mark Humphrey / Associated Press / New York Times)

Texas’ Minimum Security Death Row for Women


Pamela Weatherby

The Jesse R. Dawson State Jail, in Dallas, Texas, is a minimum-security prison for women. Corrections Corporation of America, CCA, runs the jail and turns a tidy profit doing so. Actually, the profit is messy and bloody. Dawson State Jail is a hellhole, literally a death trap for women.

Wendy King spent a year at Dawson. She knew that she and her sisters and her mother all have uterine problems. When she started bleeding, she called immediately for a doctor. None ever came. Ever. She bled continuously for nine months. No doctor ever came.

And Wendy King is one of the `lucky ones.’

Ashleigh Shae Parks, 30 years old, died of pneumonia. Her family, and others, say she was denied medication until way too late. Pamela Weatherby, 45 years old, died. Weatherby was taken off her prescribed insulin injections, and repeatedly went into diabetic coma. Until finally she died. Sheeba Green, 50 years old, suffered from diarrhea and difficulty breathing. Nobody did anything for a full three days. When she was finally allowed to go to the medical unit at Dawson, she lay for a full three hours before anyone even looked at her. Seven hours later, a doctor finally called an ambulance. The next day, Sheeba Green died of complications due to pneumonia.

Autumn Miller was in Dawson for a probation violation. She was in for a year. Miller knew something was wrong. She asked for a PAP smear and for a pregnancy test. She was denied. As time wore on, cramps and pain increased. Finally, one night, her pains became too intense for guards to ignore, and they took Miller down to the `medical unit’. Of course, there are no doctors at Dawson overnight, and so guards `took care’ of Miller, or, better put, took care of business.

The guards said Miller merely had to go to the bathroom, and so they gave her a menstrual pad and locked her in a holding cell. Despite Miller’s pleas, nobody came in to check, and so Autumn Miller gave birth to Gracie Miller, in the holding cell toilet. Guards then came in, shackled and handcuffed the mother, and took mother and daughter to the hospital. Gracie died four days later, in her shackled mother’s handcuffed arms.

Autumn Miller’s story is one of love and grief: “I kissed the baby and told her I loved her, and then I had to get back in the van and go to Dawson…. It’s unfortunate that it had to go this far for us to get to the point that someone noticed that something is wrong.” Her attorneys are more direct: “Autumn is traumatized and Gracie is dead.”

On Friday, Autumn Miller joined the ranks of women survivors and of families of women who died currently suing CCA and the State of Texas.

Advocates, prisoners current and former, politicians and just plain folk are campaigning to close Dawson. Others wonder, “Why is Texas’ worst state jail still open?” Why? Because the lives of women literally count for less than nothing.

Gracie Miller, Autumn Miller, Sheeba Green, Pamela Weatherby, Ashleigh Parks, Wendy King are the visible tip of an underground volcano that stretches across the United States, from sea to shining sea and beyond. These women were never meant to survive, and in many instances they did not.

Their deaths were planned. Their deaths, the harm done, the suffering were planned. Look at the books, look at the budgets, follow the money. You’ll see. Gracie Miller was never meant to survive. And she did not.


(Image Credit: Texas Observer)


Where’s the outrage at the forced powerlessness of pregnant women?


According to a recent study, as described in a post here last month, in the United States, being a person is tricky business if you are pregnant, poor, or a woman of color. That study responds to two sets of interrelated events: [1] the effort to pass laws that give a fetus the constitutional right of a person, thus far passed in 38 states; and [2] the increased number of arrests and incarceration of pregnant women.

The study raises many questions, ranging from the conceptualization of protection, including medical care, based on the socioeconomic status of the pregnant woman, to the concept of fetus personhood. Fetus personhood was embedded in the Roe v Wade decision in its discussion of a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy as “not absolute, and … subject to some limitations…. A State may properly assert important interests in safeguarding health, in maintaining medical standards, and in protecting potential life.”

Pregnant women have been incarcerated with greater frequency because of the establishment of a process that renders them available and appropriate to incarceration. The study identifies that process through the records and examination of the incarceration of pregnant women in the United States between 1973 and 2005. In every case the bases of arrest was the protection of the personhood of the fetus.

Being-pregnant, then, has become being-powerless. At one level, this is not new. In Beggars and Choosers, Rickie Solinger recounts how officials used White pregnant teenagers to fuel the adoption business: “Beginning in the late 1940s, community and government authorities together developed a raft of strategies some quite coercive, to press white unwed mothers to relinquish their babies to deserving couples” (70). Those teenagers were presented as “mentally disturbed” because they failed to have a husband to protect them, “a proof of neurosis,” making them potential bad mothers. The same authorities singled out and removed unwed Black teenage mothers from any public assistance, intensifying their already precarious situation.

In both cases the personhood of the young woman was reduced to being a carrier in which the state had a prevailing interest of control and protection. In this historical context, the Roe v Wade decision allowed the same ambivalence to be developed concerning the personhood of all women, with the invisible hand of the state ready to take over a woman’s right to control her body.

The study emphasizes the responsibility of the perverse effects of this lack of clarity of the woman’s existence as a person with regard to women’s versus fetus’ personhood. These effects created an insidious web of laws, which have led to the mounting incarceration of pregnant women. The fact that 38 states passed feticide or similar laws that have justified the arrest of pregnant women is no accident.

As we saw with Aaron Swartz’s suicide prompted by the violence of the American justice system, no campaign with celebrities and intellectual was organized to defend an individual who tried to defend our rights. In the case of both incarcerated pregnant women and Aaron Swartz, the outcry is limited and will probably remain so, thanks to the combined power of the State and a Civil Society that bends to corporate needs and wishes. Every day in this country, women are imprisoned because they are less important, they have less being-in-the-world, than something called the protection of “potential life.” Where is the outrage?


(Image Credit: The Atlantic / Lauren Giardano)

Violence against women has many faces

November 25th is marked as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This date was decided upon in the United Nations to remember the assassination of the Mirabal sisters by the Trujillo regime, in the Dominican Republic, November 25, 1960.

This day is to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape and domestic violence and other forms of violence. The secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon declared: “Millions of women and girls around the world are assaulted, beaten, raped, mutilated or even murdered in what constitutes appalling violations of their human rights. […] We must fundamentally challenge the culture of discrimination that allows violence to continue. On this International Day, I call on all governments to make good on their pledges to end all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world, and I urge all people to support this important goal.”

Should the European Union support this important goal and challenge the culture of discrimination within its behavior as an institution, as crimes against women are committed in member states? The death of Savita Halappanavar for denied therapeutic abortion in Ireland is only one of numerous cases of women being killed or injured because some States still have laws denying reproductive care to women. Those laws have remained the same sometimes since the 19th century. For instance in Ireland, doctors or nurses who help women who seek an abortion are punishable under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 that prescribes a minimum sentence of two years hard labor and can result in a life sentence.

The nomination of Tonio Borg (overtly against women and LGBT’s rights) as the new commissioner for Health will accentuate the impossibility for the European commission to stop state-legitimized violence against women in Member States with anti abortion, restrictive reproduction laws, such as Ireland, Poland,  and Malta. These laws are generalized in many countries from Africa to the Americas, including the United States.

Restrictions for women are economic as well. Where contraceptives are expensive or simply difficult to obtain, abortion services are generally illegal or restricted. Meanwhile, women are in the main still economically dependent.

Having a weak health commission in the Europe Union is no surprise. It results from lobbying from member states that don’t want to see the European convention on human rights and parliamentary resolutions applied to health care and in particular to women’s reproductive health. If women’s reproductive health were seen as a human right, those members who are inconsistent with EU conventions would finally be held accountable.

Violence against women has many faces. Often the violence stems from state denial of services or state practices of humiliated access to important services. In Baltimore, Maryland, for example, as in much of the United States, incarcerated pregnant women travel shackled to medical appointments.  These women are seen in regular hospitals walking among other patients with their guards and shackles.  Their treatment and humiliation is shaped by federal, state or local policies, which even force them to deliver their babies in chains, putting their lives at risk exactly as Savita Halappanavar lost hers.



(Photo Credit 1: AP / Shawn Pogatchnik / Salon) (Photo Credit 2: Reuters / Cathal Mcnaughton / Salon)