Policies to Roll Back Abortion Rights Will Hit Incarcerated People Particularly Hard

by | Aug 22, 2022 | Health

Policies governing abortion and reproductive health care services in U.S. prisons and jails were restrictive and often hostile even before the Supreme Court removed Roe v. Wade’s constitutional protections for abortions. After the June ruling, many reproductive services stand to be prohibited altogether, putting the health of incarcerated women who are pregnant at risk.

That threat is particularly urgent in states where lawmakers have made clear their intentions to roll back abortion rights.

“Previously there was at least some sliver of legal recourse there for an incarcerated person, but that no longer exists for people who live in states where abortion is or will be severely restricted or illegal,” said Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN, a professor, and the director of the Advocacy and Research on Reproductive Wellness of Incarcerated People program at Johns Hopkins University.

The Northern Rockies and Upper Midwest regions are home to some of the states with the highest rates of incarcerated women in the country. According to 2020 data from the Sentencing Project, Idaho has the highest incarceration rate — 110 women per 100,000 adult female residents — of any state, closely followed by South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, whose rates are more than double the national average.

Nationally, women make up an increasingly large share of prison and jail populations. From 1980 to 2020, the number of incarcerated women grew by nearly five times.

State and federal prisons do not reliably track or report the number of incarcerated people who are pregnant. The Prison Policy Project, a nonprofit research organiz …

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