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Pregnancy care was always lacking in jails. It could get worse

Renuka Rayasam, KFF Health News on

Published in Women

It was about midnight in June 2022 when police officers showed up at Angela Collier’s door and told her that someone anonymously requested a welfare check because they thought she might have had a miscarriage.

Standing in front of the concrete steps of her home in Midway, Texas, Collier, initially barefoot and wearing a baggy gray T-shirt, told officers she planned to see a doctor in the morning because she had been bleeding.

Police body camera footage obtained by KFF Health News through an open records request shows that the officers then told Collier — who was 29 at the time and enrolled in online classes to study psychology — to turn around.

Instead of taking her to get medical care, they handcuffed and arrested her because she had outstanding warrants in a neighboring county for failing to appear in court to face misdemeanor drug charges three weeks earlier. She had missed that court date, medical records show, because she was at a hospital receiving treatment for pregnancy complications.

Despite her symptoms and being about 13 weeks pregnant, Collier spent the next day and a half in the Walker County Jail, about 80 miles north of Houston. She said her bleeding worsened there and she begged repeatedly for medical attention that she didn’t receive, according to a formal complaint she filed with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

“There wasn’t anything I could do,” she said, but “just lay there and be scared and not know what was going to happen.”

 

Collier’s experience highlights the limited oversight and absence of federal standards for reproductive care for pregnant women in the criminal justice system. Incarcerated people have a constitutional right to health care, yet only a half-dozen states have passed laws guaranteeing access to prenatal or postpartum medical care for people in custody, according to a review of reproductive health care legislation for incarcerated people by a research group at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. And now abortion restrictions might be putting care further out of reach.

Collier’s arrest was “shocking and disturbing” because officers “blithely” took her to jail despite her miscarriage concerns, said Wanda Bertram, a spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit organization that studies incarceration. Bertram reviewed the body cam footage and Collier’s complaint.

“Police arrest people who are in medical emergencies all the time,” she said. “And they do that regardless of the fact that the jail is often not equipped to care for those people in the way an emergency room might be.”

After a decline during the first year of the pandemic, the number of women in U.S. jails is once again rising, hitting nearly 93,000 in June 2022, a 33% increase over 2020, according to the Department of Justice. Tens of thousands of pregnant women enter U.S. jails each year, according to estimates by Carolyn Sufrin, an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who researches pregnancy care in jails and prisons.

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©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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