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Roth, Rachel. “"Obstructing Justice: Prisons as Barriers to Medical Care for Pregnant Women.”.” UCLA Women’s Law Journal 18, no. 1 (2010): 1–28.


This article examines, from a mainly legal perspective, a multitude of barriers in prison life to abortion care and medical attention for pregnancy. The author argues that prisons do not, and probably cannot, provide pregnant women with appropriate care. She describes in detail a variety of factors that deny women in prison access to abortion and pregnancy care, or considerably delay such access. Some of those factors are rooted in legal issues and prison policies or lack of policies, and some stem from practical obstacles. In the case of abortion care, the author notes that abortion is not provided inside the prison, and although women do not lose their constitutional right to abortion in prison, they are forced to overcome serious hurdles such as cost, finding and reaching an abortion provider. The leading case (Monmouth County Corr. Institutional Inmates v. Lanzaro) held that all medical care related to pregnancy, including abortion, is protected under the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments as “serious medical need,” and therefore denying or delaying access to such care amounts to deliberate indifference. But recent decisions have departed from some of Monmouth’s holdings and reasoning, in ways that continue to limit women’s access to abortion in prison. With regard to pregnancy, the author notes that seeking medical care for pregnancy in prison can prove extremely difficult, especially since prisoners deal with limited access to health care in general. The article describes cases where women in labor or having a miscarriage were denied medical care, and it explores the prison dynamics and legal framework behind such cases. Some courts have determined that pregnancy, by itself, is not a “serious medical need,” and therefore not protected under the Eighth Amendment. The author criticizes this, emphasizing that although pregnancy alone isn’t an illness or a disability, the harsh conditions in prison turn pregnancy into a serious medical need.  The article provides a thorough and informed discussion, focusing mostly on the legal framework and policies governing the rights of pregnant prisoners, but also describing the practical barriers to care they face. It could be especially useful to those who are interested in the legal or policy aspects of improving reproductive health care in prisons, or in a better understanding of the realities of reproductive injustice in prison.  


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Government regulation   Legal case   Abortion   Health care   Criminal justice/incarceration   Pregnancy