The bipartisan Pregnant Women in Custody Act would establish standards for medical care and nutrition for women in custody.
The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill on Thursday to protect the health of incarcerated pregnant women, 324-90. Ninety Republicans voted against the legislation.
The Pregnant Women in Custody Act, authored by Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), is designed to address health disparities that impact incarcerated women who are pregnant or in postpartum recovery. It guarantees minimum levels of health care and nutrition for the pregnant inmate and her newborn children, limits the use of restraints and solitary confinement, and offers incentives to states to adopt similar protections.
"Our prison system was not created with women in mind and as a result continually fails to provide basic necessities to tens of thousands of individuals who are incarcerated every single day," Bass explained in a March press release.
"I'm proud to be introducing this bipartisan bill to make sure that we are mindful and responsible for the health and wellness of pregnant women in prison," she said. "That means an appropriate diet, it means access to appropriate medical assistance, and it certainly means stopping the shackling of pregnant inmates."
In a statement on Thursday celebrating the vote, Reschenthaler said: "It is … critical to ensure pregnant female prisoners and their unborn babies have access to quality prenatal and post-delivery care, as well as supporting a smooth transition to everyday life once released. I am proud to see the House pass these pieces of legislation and urge the Senate to act swiftly to do the same."
According to reporting by The 19th, the bill is endorsed by both health groups like the American Psychological Association and the Major County Sheriffs of America.
The Prison Policy Initiative's Wanda Bertram told the outlet in October that nutrition for pregnant women in prisons is a significant challenge. "Prisons do typically have policies where, you know, if you're pregnant, you can get a little bit more food," she said. "But the diet that people get in prisons is terrible."
Few of the 90 GOP opponents explained their opposition. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald of Wisconsin said that language in the bill mandating that federal prisons provide contraception upon inmates' requests could be interpreted to include medication abortion.
In a floor speech on Thursday, Fitzgerald praised the bill's general aims, but said:
We all believe that pregnant incarcerated women should be well cared-for while they are in federal custody. However, I would like to note the concern that the bill could require the Bureau of Prisons to provide abortifacients to pregnant inmates. However, the word "contraception" is not defined in the bill and the internal Bureau of Prisons policy does not define "contraception." Because of the word "contraception" is not defined, this ambiguity leaves the reasonable interpretation of the term "contraception" and could include abortifacients or other substances that induce abortion.
Others voting against the bill were Republican Reps. Andy Biggs (AZ), Lauren Boebert (CO), Virginia Foxx (NC), Matt Gaetz (FL), Ronny Jackson (TX), and Jason Smith (MO).
The bill now moves to the Senate, which has just a few weeks left to pass it before the Congress ends. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a Senate version of the bill in October.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.