Some Female Inmates Are Shackled During Childbirth. More States Are Banning the Practice.

March 13, 2019 AT 6:45 AM

By Lindsay Whitehurst

Michelle Aldana gave birth to her first child chained to a hospital bed.

Then serving time at the Utah state prison on a drug charge, she says she labored through the difficult 2001 birth for nearly 30 hours, her ankles bleeding as the shackles on both her legs and one arm dug in. "I felt like a farm animal," she says.

The practice of keeping inmates shackled during childbirth was once common around the United States, but that's gradually been changing after women began speaking out, with 22 states passing laws against it over the past two decades.

Utah and at least three other states are considering joining them this year, after the federal government recently banned the practice with a sweeping criminal justice reform law. Many other states have policies against shackling, but advocates say that without a law it's harder to stop a practice they condemn as dangerous and inhumane.

Women are America's fast-growing segment of prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates about 12,000 pregnant women are incarcerated in U.S. jails or prisons each year.

"For me, it's just a fundamental issue of dignity," said Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, who is sponsoring the Utah measure. "A woman deserves dignity in childbirth."

Though the state prison changed its official policy to prohibit shackling in 2015, Pitcher has heard from a number of Utah doctors who have treated incarcerated women having babies in shackles, some as recently as this year. Her bill, which would apply to both the prison and local jails, passed the state House and is being considered by the Senate.

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