This week, reproductive injustice made headlines as allegations came to light that migrant women detained at Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia have been sterilized without their consent. While reports of these human rights abuses have shocked much of the American public, in fact, reproductive injustice has long run rampant inside the federal immigration system, not to mention in prisons and jails, and within the United States health care system at large. Although much of the news is grim, communities of color continue to develop creative ways of meeting people’s reproductive care needs, safeguarding both lives and bodily autonomy. In case you missed it, here’s a round-up of Prism’s latest reporting on reproductive justice and maternal health for women of color.
The effects of the long-standing maternal health epidemic on our nation are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States ranks 55th in maternal mortality in comparison to other countries, and race has an outsized impact on maternal health outcomes in this country. Black women are three times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts. These grim statistics are strong evidence of the deep inequities in our national maternal health outcomes.
Rhonda Lee Grantham, founder of the Center for Indigenous Midwifery, said the purpose of the program is to provide participants with both cultural knowledge and perinatal care information they need to help support childbirth within their communities. The curriculum is a combination of scientific knowledge that can be applied to every childbirth as well as cultural and traditional knowledge that is specific to Indigenous communities in the United States. It ranges from information on epidurals and cesareans to sexuality in birth and what it means to be a Native father, and will be provided by a team of instructors that include Indigenous midwives and birthkeepers, maternal child health workers, experts, traditional healers, and community families.
“Because criminal incarceration and immigrant detention stem from the same vilification of people of color, we should expect that the indignities of one confinement venue will appear in the other,” Cuauhtémoc García Hernández said. “From uncontrollable cops to jailhouse indignities, that’s exactly what women experience when they enter the nation’s prisons no matter who pays the guards’ wages.”
In prisons, reproductive abuse and coercion are the norm (Briana Perry)
Incarcerated pregnant people are routinely denied the reproductive care that they deserve. Whether women desire to terminate a pregnancy or to carry a healthy pregnancy to term while incarcerated, the state applies the same violence of mistreatment and denial of care. In 2016, the sheriff in Maury County, Tennessee, denied Kei’Choura Cathey access to an abortion while she was detained and by the time that she was released, it was too late for the procedure. In 2010, Countess Clemons, a young Black woman incarcerated in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had her pregnancy complications ignored and dismissed leading to the preterm birth of her baby who ultimately died. Charity Flerl was shackled for three days in Hamilton County, including postpartum, and suffered unnecessary injuries and pain.
In New Jersey’s immigrant community, doula Teresita Carrasquillo is considered a godsend. Families call her at all hours—pregnant people have questions about something they learned in their childbirth education class; new mothers want additional tips on breastfeeding or help getting diapers; and women who gave birth months prior just want to remain connected. Carrasquillo becomes a friend and confidant to undocumented women navigating one of life’s biggest transitions in a country that is increasingly hostile to immigrants.
Keep reading Prism for more in-depth coverage of the major reproductive justice issues facing communities of color. See you next week.