In the wake of International Women’s Day comes a study suggesting that access to reproductive healthcare for incarcerated American women not only varies widely but also often replicates the barriers to healthcare that they face in their home communities. Michelle Chen cites for RaceWire the current issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, which surveyed correctional health providers across the country. The study found that access to reproductive health differs from state to state and that state politics plays a major role in the variation:
“...providers from states with a Republican-dominated legislature or with a Medicaid policy that severely restricted coverage for abortion were more likely to indicate that availability of abortion services was limited than were those whose state had a predominantly Democratic legislature or a Medicaid program that covered all or most medically necessary abortions.”
Furthermore, the study points out that women in prison “disproportionately represent marginalized sectors of our society; they are predominantly women of color, poor, unemployed and undereducated and thus may not have adequate access to health care in general, and reproductive health services in particular...their involvement with the correctional health system may represent one of their few opportunities to access medical care.”
Thus, by denying standardized, comprehensive reproductive healthcare to prisoners, a system that has already barred them from decent medical care fails them once again.
The study invokes both the Eighth Amendment, which guarantees all prisoners the right to healthcare, and the Fourteenth, which prohibits states from depriving a person privacy without due process of the law, thus protecting a woman’s right to choose abortion even under incarceration. It concludes that to uphold these rights the prison system must directly address its healthcare policies through further study and interventions.