Safe Pregnancies for Female Inmates

Safe Pregnancies for Female Inmates

Prenatal Care Empowers Women to Develop Healthy Life Skills:

Women are often inspired to make positive life changes while experiencing pregnancy.  Barbara Hotelling, MSN, CD (DONA), LCCE, FACCE eloquently described this experience when she stated:

“Pregnancy and giving birth is a transformational time in a women’s life. With adequate support and prenatal care, expectant and new pregnant personmothers often discard lifestyle behaviors such as smoking and drinking alcohol that would negatively affect their babies. They eat more nutritious foods, alter their social lives to get appropriate sleep, and exercise more regularly, decreasing their risks of physical complications and depression.  With education and support, preparation for birth gives women the opportunity, in this most teachable moment, to change their lifestyle behaviors and to have positive birth experiences...[1]

Prenatal Care Supports Children at their Most Vulnerable Stage of Development:

Good nutrition and health care is important at all stages of life beginning at conception. Providing access to prenatal care for children at their earliest and most vulnerable stages of development and to their mothers not only respects the human dignity and sacred value of both women and children but is good medical practice.

The literature suggests that maternal prenatal stress, anxiety, and depression may have lasting effects on child development.[2] Additionally, more than 57% of the women incarcerated in the United States have already suffered severe and prolonged physical and/or sexual abuse[3] prior to incarceration. Therefore, as the Department of Corrections reviews its policies and establishes procedures to assure proper prenatal and postpartum medical care for incarcerated pregnant women that decrease her stress and anxiety, the health of both the mother and the child in her womb is enhanced. Pregnant women, and their unborn children, deserve respect, safety, good medical care, compassion and support. Certain components of this bill enhance the rights of vulnerable women and their children.

Contraceptive use has numerous side-effects and risks of serious complications.

The side-effects of the pill include headaches, depression, decreased libido and weight gain.[4] Documented serious complications include heart attacks,[5] cervical cancer[6] and blood clots.[7] The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute has a number of documented studies that show the connection between high doses of estrogen and breast cancer. According to a Boston Globe article, “[t]housands of lawsuits have been brought against the makers of Ortho Evra, Johnson & Johnson, by women who used it and suffered heart attacks, strokes, or blood clots.” [8] Additionally, multiple studies examining sexual behavior and STD transmission have demonstrated risk compensation behavior, which is a greater willingness to engage in potentially risky behavior when one believes risk has been reduced through technology. 

Educating women on Natural Family Planning (NFP) and abstinence would be better for a women’s physical, emotional and spiritual health. A woman’s overall health would be better served by including in any health education program information relative to NFP and abstinence. Additionally, the reliance on contraceptives has shown to increase one’s temptation to abort if pregnancy occurs. Research released in September 2011 clearly indicated that abortion significantly increased mental health problems for women.[9]

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference affirms that it is better to provide incarcerated women with up-to-date resources that teach NFP and abstinence. Women who receive NFP education no longer are required to rely on chemicals to space their children. Additionally, this organic, affordable method of family planning provides women with the opportunity to better understand and appreciate the unique aspects of their body.

Ensure all Women Access to full Knowledge Prior to Any Medical Procedure:

The current Department of Correction regulations do not ensure that women are fully informed prior to all medical procedures. All women contemplating abortion deserve to be offered comprehensive information relative to abortion and available alternatives. Access to information on the abortion procedure, the risks, the unborn child’s status and development (including ultrasound imaging and heartbeat recording when applicable), the availability of alternatives and corresponding resources, along with sufficient reflection time should be made available for all women. Any legislation addressing the overall care of pregnant women in correctional facilities must guarantee these educational protections.

Post-Partum Care for Women:

Giving birth is a serious medical procedure, with physical consequences for a women’s body. Giving birth also affects a woman emotional and spiritual body. A safe pregnancy plan for inmates must include post-partum support and counseling. Supportive counseling is needed to help a women adjust to her decision to create an adoption plan, a child placement plan or heal from a decision to abort.  For as Pope John Paul II reminded us, “we are all sinners, and our response to sin and failure should not be abandonment and despair, but rather justice, contrition, reparation, and return or re-integration of all into the community”. Providing women with the needed support to heal her physical, emotional and spiritual body will make her road to re-integration much smoother for her and for society.

All women and children deserve respect, safety, good medical care, compassion and support that uphold their human dignity. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference urges state leaders to provide needed, not hurtful care for pregnant and post-partum women (pdf).

Voice your Opinion:

  1. Call, email, write or visit your State Representative and State Senator.
  2. To find your elected officials visit or call at 617-722-2000
  3. Share your lobbying success with the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, call 617-367-6060.




[1] Hotelling, Barbara,  Preinatal Needs of Pregnant, Incarcerated Women, The Journal of Perinatal Education, Spring 2008 at 4.

[2] O’Connor TG, Caprariello P, Blackmore ER, Gregory AM, Glover, V, Fleming P, ALSPAC Study Team, Prenatal Mood Disturbance Predicts Sleep Problems in Infancy and Toddlerhood. Early Human Dev, July 2007, 83(7):451-8.

[3] Rathbone, Cristina,  A World Apart, Random House, May 2005 at p.22.

[4] B Tanis, et al., “Oral Contraceptives and the Risk of Myocardial Infarction,” 345 New England Journal of Medicine 1787 (December 20, 2001).

[5] R Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology at 418 (1998).

[6] J Kemmeren, et al., “Third Generation Oral Contraceptives and Risk of Venous Thrombosis: Meta-analysis,” 323 British Medical Journal 131 (July 21, 2001).

[7] Jauser Betwirj, Daily Reproductive Health Report, “British Lawsuit Filed Against Makers of ‘Third-Generation’ Birth Control Pills,” October 2, 2001.

[8] Y. Abraham, “No Patch for Deepest Cut,” The Boston Globe, October 21, 2009.

[9] P. Coleman, “Abortion and Mental Health: Quantitative Synthesis and Analysis of Research Published 1995-2009,” 199:180-186, The British Journal of Psychiatry, September 2011.