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Attorney Rebecca Brodie to Give Birth in Shackles as Protest

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By emjaybee

Photo courtesy of Jane Evelyn Atwood/Contact Press Images

I came across this amazing project thanks to a writeup by Miriam Zoila Pérez, founder of RadicalDoula and an editor at Feministing.

The proximity of the women’s prison and Brodie’s pro-bono legal work with incarcerated women is what inspired the protest she’s planning for December, when her third child is born. If all goes according to plan, she’ll be laboring and delivering her baby in metal restraints that restrict her arms and legs. She’s planning to simulate the same conditions that many incarcerated pregnant women face when delivering in state prisons and jails, including some of the women housed at the prison right by her home.

Currently, it is legal in 36 states to shackle pregnant inmates during labor and not uncommon to cuff a woman’s limbs to a hospital bed until delivery. Let’s give ACOG full props on this as well: they are adamantly opposed to this practice. (Though I have to wonder what Brodie’s OB will think about her participation). 

“I’m sure you can create your own visual about a woman eight centimeters dilated and in labor. The chances of her getting up and running away are pretty slim,” said Jeanne Conry, a district chair of American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Brodie is apparently also planning a documentary on her protest, to be released next year. 

For more information about the most recent case regarding shackling in labor, please read the documents in the Nelson v. Norris case, this blog post from National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and these posts from Our Bodies Our Blog and RH Reality Check


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Reader Comments (21)

Man. My whole body aches just thinking about doing that. Will be interested to see how it goes.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Rachel

Not to make light of a henious practice but just wondering how many of these women are actually in hard core labor and shackled and how many opt for drugs? I propose an epidural is nothing more than shackling in another socially acceptable way.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKinsey

@ Kinsey ... I don't know, but I have heard that women in prison are often denied much in the way of pain relief. Given that most women want their epidurals, I think it's really offensive to compare the practices.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentererica

No way is being restrained against your will while potentially in severe pain at all comparable to choosing a method of pain relief that happens to limit your mobility. That's way off base and incredibly offensive.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

@erica Wow, not intending to be offensive. Having had an epidural myself, I am merely contrasting how it is socially acceptable to confine a woman via drugs, monitoring, etc but the thought of actual metal restraints for a woman is obviously wrong. I in no way endorse shackling a woman in labor whether it is metal, drug induced or otherwise unless that woman chooses to be so.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKinsey

@Jenn We obviously are batting for the same team here, no need to jump to conclusions on someone you don't even know. Here are my comments from the Facebook post. Hope they are more clear. "I propose this isn't that much different then how the majority of laboring women are delivering their babies in hospitals across America. Many hospitals limit or strongly discourage women in movement, forcing them to the confines of their bed or hindering their movement with overzealous monitoring." I was one of those woman, was I literally being shackled by metal-no, but that doesn't mean it still wasn't damaging. It's like saying to someone that was molested-well, at least you weren't raped. It's heinous and completely unacceptable either way!

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKinsey

@erica @Jenn Please also don't assume that every woman that gets an epidural actually wants one. Often women are talked into it or cajoled into it by healthcare providers or are given little option but to get one. Healthcare providers are not teaching or showing women how to labor to avoid them. It's far more convenient for the hospital for women to be drugged up and stuck with monitors and on their backs in bed. They are in control then. Please read my birth story if you have a chance. http://wp.me/Z6Hl

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKinsey

Thanks for sharing, embaybee, this is really interesting. And I find myself oddly conflicted. On the one hand, I think that shackling pregnant women is a barbaric practice that should be stopped, and on the other hand, I just feel like "to what end?" Frankly I am a lot more interested in hearing the voices of the women for whom this is a reality than seeing a performance of shackled birth in a woman of privilege who can opt out at any moment. Is this supposed to be in solidarity? To expose how inhumane the practice is? Because if it's the latter, even if she is chained to a bed, there is a world of difference between her experience and that of incarcerated women... does she plan to be induced because of prison protocol? to have people ignoring her requests for pain management or screaming at her about how worthless she is? will she give birth on a locked ward with police in the room? I commend her commitment to the cause, and willingness to put her own body on the line, and yet in some ways I feel this teeters close to making it 'about' her. Maybe hearing more from the filmmaker would change my mind.

October 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterCourtroom Mama

What if medical staff do not want to be around a murderer that has access to sharp objects/needles in the ER? Maybe other restraints are necessary for convicted violent offenders to ensure that the staff and baby are not harmed at this vulnerable moment?

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShane

Kinsey: There is a distinct difference, however, between being able to *choose* pain relief (be it an epidural or something else) and having it forced upon you - or withheld from you despite your wishes.

Courtroom Mama: I think you hit the nail on the head with your questions. This really just feels like all too much theatre to me. I mean, if nothing else, she's *choosing* to be shackled, which is not at all the situation (not to mention the other examples you give). I imagine her heart is in the right place, I just don't see how this will benefit much.

Shane: I do, personally, think that medical staff have the right to make sure that they are not in danger when dealing with patients, absolutely. They should not be forced to put themselves in physical danger. However, the majority of these cases are not violent offenders and therefore your question does not apply (and they all, as prisoners, would have armed guards with them, able to temporarily restrain them should they unexpectedly become violent). I do actually think that restraints may actually have a place, but they should not be the first check on a list regarding laboring prisoners. Women who actually put others in danger may end up facing the situation where they must be restrained in labor; while that does bother me to think of that happening, I can absolutely understand the need for restraints if a woman is an active threat. However, someone who is not an active threat? Yeah, no. They all have armed guards, and the guards should carry restraints to be prepared. If the woman becomes a threat, she can be restrained (I imagine medicating as sometimes happens with violent patients is not as easy in this situation). There are also safety precautions that the medical staff can take, such as making sure that the room is suitable for a potentially violent patient. While not all prisoners have mental health issues, there is a significant cross-over, and hospitals should be well-prepared to deal with laboring women with mental health issues - especially if they are expecting them, yes?

October 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterANaturalAdvocate
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Thanks for wanting to comment. This is an archive of a blog that once was. Take care! Jill