Many people don’t commonly associate pregnancy with prison. But the reality is there are pregnant women in prison, and many pregnant women in prison face huge barriers and health concerns you wouldn’t believe. One woman recently shared her story with a writer for Elle.
Maine resident Courtney Fortin is currently the mom of a typical toddler. On the surface, you wouldn’t think she spent the first six months of her pregnancy behind bars, after being arrested for possession of Oxy 15. Imagine all things that many of us take for granted during a pregnancy, like prenatal vitamins, compression socks, doctor’s appointments, and privacy. Fortin hardly had any of these things, telling Elle:
“And it wasn’t until five months into her pregnancy that she was granted her first prenatal appointment—one of just three. During the appointments, she had zero discretion, privacy, or confidentiality. There was always a male correction officer from York County Jail, where she was an inmate at the time, in the examination room, and she was handcuffed and chained throughout every visit.
To get to the obstetrician’s office, Courtney says she sat shackled in the back of a van. When she arrived at the doctor’s office, she asked the correction officers to remove her handcuffs and leg shackles (which were cutting off circulation in her swollen ankles) so she’d be less likely to trip and fall as she lowered herself out of the van. Her balance was compromised, she explained, and she’d be unable to catch herself with her chained hands. Their only response: That’s how we do things here…”
What’s troubling about her story is that she’s not the only one. According to The Sentencing Project, “1 out of every 25 women in state prisons is pregnant and 1 out of every 33 women in federal prisons are pregnant when admitted to prison.” Most states, except for 18, still allow pregnant prisoners to be shackled before, during, and after birth despite evidence from the medical community that this practice is totally unethical and opposed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Shackling increases the risk of blood clots, falling, limits the mobility needed for safe pregnancy and delivery, increases the risk of falling, and causes severe discomfort. Which, you know, are all things that impede a healthy and safe pregnancy.
As of now, Courtney works to raise awareness on the safety issues many pregnant women face in prison, and even testified on behalf of a bill that would make shackling in Maine prisons illegal. Fortin also wants to stop perpetuating untrue stereotypes about people in prison, stating:
“People say things like ‘just don’t get arrested,’ but it needs to be the other way around. Nobody grows up as a child and says, ‘I want to be an addict.'” Don’t assume the worst about somebody just because they’re in jail or have an addiction, because you never know the real reason behind it. People assume that you must be a scumbag, but there’s just so much more to it. Maybe we’re more alike than you think.”