New Report Summarizes Incarcerated Women's Access to Reproductive Health Care

By Rachel Walden — March 18, 2009

The March issue of the Guttmacher Institute’s journal, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, includes a study on access to abortion [PDF] for incarcerated women in the United States, and found considerable variability in women’s access to these services.

The researchers sent surveys to correctional health providers across the country and asked questions about access to abortion, contraceptive counseling, and other women’s health issues, such as vaccine updates, STI screening, and mammography.

They received 286 responses; among the findings:

  • 68% of respondents indicated women at their facility were allowed to obtain an elective abortion if they requested one.
  • 54% percent of respondents who said yes reported that they also assist women in arranging an appointment for an abortion, and 88% replied that their facility arranges transportation for women seeking an elective abortion.
  • 71% of providers counseled women about contraceptive options at some point during their incarceration.

The authors also note, perhaps unsurprisingly, that “By all of the measures we assessed, abortion appears to be more accessible to incarcerated women in states with predominantly Democratic or bipartisan legislatures than in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.”

A commentary [PDF] in the same issue of the journal by Diana Kasden of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, points out that “even among respondents who indicated that their facilities do allow access to abortion, many said that women receive little or no logistical assistance in arranging, paying for and getting to the appointment,” and discusses the findings and related Constitutional issues.

Thanks to RaceWire for pointing to the study; author Michelle Chen comments on the study’s discussion of the obstacles incarcerated women have often faced in obtaining health care in their communities as well:

“Prison should not be a woman’s first opportunity to obtain quality medical care, though neither should it replicate the systemic problems that limited her opportunities on the outside. President Obama recently started redirecting federal family planning resources toward comprehensive clinical services and away from abstinence-only sex education programs. It remains to be seen whether some of the country’s least free women will see brighter prospects for reproductive freedom under the new administration.”

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