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Copyright (c) 2009 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties

Symposium On Gender, Parenting, And The Law: Article: Prisons as a Tool of Reproductive Oppression

October, 2009

Stanford Journal of Civil Rights And Civil Liberties

5 Stan. J.C.R. & C.L. 309


Human Rights Program at Justice Now+


I. Introduction

Eva is a young Filipina woman imprisoned in the California prison system. Unfortunately, her story is not unusual. A person entering a women's prison in California in her twenties faces a significant risk of leaving prison unable to have children, whether because of a hysterectomy, because of inadequate medical care, or because her prison sentence will outlast her reproductive years. This is especially true for people of color, who are more likely to enter prison 2 and to face abuses while there. 3 Thus, while the contested right to an abortion is far from secure within prisons and jails, 4 people in women's prisons 5 are often more concerned with protecting their capacities to have children and to retain custody of their children. This leaves many abuses in women's prisons outside the mainstream reproductive rights movement - which largely focuses on abortion access - and thus, rarely discussed or addressed.

The continuing battle to retain and expand the right to an abortion necessitates committing significant resources, but failing to highlight the number of people in prison and also outside prison who deeply desire to preserve and utilize their reproductive capacity leaves reproductive choice advocates seemingly anti-family, when that is not actually the case. Such tactics also limit the audience for long-term change around reproductive rights.

Because human rights abuses in women's prisons are much larger than isolated violations of reproductive rights, they provide an excellent vehicle for establishing the need for a long-term movement for ...
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