Legislation banning shackling pregnant women in Idaho’s prison system from being physically restrained as they give birth needs a Senate vote and signature from Gov. Butch Otter to become law. The state’s correctional system already limits the use of the practice and the legislation would make sure county jails do the same.
The plan from Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, would prevent women in labor or delivering their babies from having leg or waist restraints. They could only have soft wrist restraints in extraordinary circumstances, and those would need to come off under a doctor’s orders. McGeachin said shackling women during birth could violate their constitutional rights that protect against cruel and unusual punishment.
The Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) has approximately 20 to 35 births a year, while 10 pregnant women in county jails give birth a year. IDOC Director Brent Reinke said the department’s practices with pregnant women wouldn’t need to change if the legislation passes.
McGeachin worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho (ACLU) on the legislation. Hannah Brass with the ACLU said 10 other states have similar laws on the books and said that the use of restraints is inhumane and can pose safety risks for expectant mothers and children.
“You’ll be supporting the dignity of pregnant prisoners and ensuring their safety,” Brass told the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee, which approved the plan without dissent.
Committee Chairman Denton Darrington, R-Declo, asked whether the legislation was in search of a problem that didn’t exist in Idaho. Brass said the ACLU has received complaints from women who said they were shackled during labor and delivery. However, they didn’t pursue the issue legally because none of the women wanted to be identified.
“I don’t put much stock into those kind of complaints if they’re not willing to have them looked at,” Darrington said.
The legislation was recommended by the Idaho Sheriffs Association, which serves sheriffs who run county jails. It was also backed by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Right to Life of Idaho. Marty Durand with Planned Parenthood said it’s the first time in 10 years that she’s been on the same side of an issue with anti-abortion rights groups.
“We’re not only pro-baby but we’re pro-mom,” said Jason Herring with Right to Life of Idaho.
The legislation now heads to the Senate for a full vote.