JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – Missouri lawmakers passed a bill Thursday that bars corrections officers from shackling pregnant prisoners through their third trimester, during labor and two days after delivery, and the measure will now go to embattled Governor Eric Greitens.
Long supported by civil rights advocates, SB 870 passed the Missouri House of Representatives 13-12 and is headed to the governor’s desk for his signature. It is unclear when Greitens will get to the bill, as he is fighting for his political life after an investigative committee reported he blackmailed a former mistress. A special session began Friday that could lead to his impeachment.
The bill modifies provisions of state law related to emergency medical services. A section on the use of physical restraints on pregnant and postpartum prisoners bars the use of the shackles except in cases where an inmate is a flight risk, or if the restraints must be used to protect the safety of prisoners or others around her.
Doctors and nurses can also order corrections officers to remove the restraints.
“We’re glad that the Missouri Legislature has finally addressed this human rights issue for women in our state,” said Senator Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, who had sponsored the Senate version of the bill. “Women in the state’s care while pregnant will now be safer during one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri said Thursday that only the state’s Department of Corrections and its contractors would be required to follow the bill’s provisions but noted that it was a “meaningful step” in the right direction. The group urged Greitens to sign the bill into law.
Republican Representative Jean Evans said in a prepared statement that she would continue to push for a statewide ban on the shacking pregnant inmates. The bill does not prevent officers from using restraints in county and city jails.
“Missouri’s women will now be protected from this dangerous practice that has resulted in tragic results for both mothers and babies,” Evans said.
Opponents of the bill, including the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, argued that the law would overburden law enforcement. But the ACLU said that the use of restraints on women going through labor could complicate C-section operations. A delay of five minutes can result in permanent brain damage to newborns, the civil rights group said.
“Shackling a woman during labor is unsafe, unnecessary and unconstitutional,” said ACLU of Missouri Legislative and Policy Director Sara Baker.
In March, North Carolina joined a list of 18 other states that have introduced laws prohibiting or restricting the use of restraints during childbirth. Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana, Georgia and South Carolina do not restrict shackling inmates in labor, according to a Guardian report. Other states have no policy on the issue.
Last summer, Democratic U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act that would ban the use of restraints, including handcuffs and chains, on pregnant federal prisoners.
The American Medical Association has called shackling pregnant inmates a “barbaric practice that needlessly inflicts excruciating pain and humiliation.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a November 2011 committee opinion that shackles “may not only compromise health care but is demeaning and rarely necessary.”
According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, 111,422 women were incarcerated at year-end 2016, accounting for 7 percent of the national prison population.
In 2010, 6 percent of women in correctional facilities were pregnant.