California Bill Could Expand Rights of Pregnant People Behind Bars

Supermajority Education Fund

February 4, 2020

A new bill in the California legislature will amend the state penal code to expand rights to incarcerated pregnant people. A.B. 732, called “Reproductive Dignity for Incarcerated People Act,” passed the California Assembly on Jan. 27 and will now head to the state’s Senate. Assemblyman Rob Bonta introduced the bill, along with co-authors Assemblywomen Monique Limón and Shirley Weber and Sen. Holly Mitchell. Community organizations, including the Women’s Policy Institute of the Women’s Foundation of California, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and Young Women’s Freedom Center, supported the bill.

In recent years, advocates have argued that pregnant inmates were provided with inadequate care. A January 2016 report published by the ACLU of California found that the population of incarcerated people that can get pregnant had risen in the state. A class-action lawsuit filed against the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County at the end of 2019 alleged three inmates miscarried as a result of this poor treatment.

A.B. 732 expands reproductive access by mandating prenatal and postpartum checkups, requiring the provision of lower bunks and lower floor housing to pregnant incarcerated people, and outlawing solitary confinement for them. The bill will also make sure people are offered, but are not required to take, a pregnancy test on intake and will allow a pregnant person to have a support person during labor and birth. Incarceration does not take away someone’s right to abortion; the bill codifies the abortion regulations in place for prisons.

While A.B. 732 focuses on reforming jails — which are run by counties and typically hold people before their trials or involve incarceration for less than one year — it also has language to codify regulations for prisons — which typically hold those convicted for more than a year and are run by the state. 

“It’s important to have good standards of care in both [jails and prisons],”  Minouche Kandel, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California’s LGBTQ, Gender, & Reproductive Justice Project, told Supermajority News. “Under the U.S. Constitution and California Constitution, [the state] thereby becomes responsible for the healthcare of incarcerated people, and reproductive health care is basic health care.”

Kandel added that while prisons have rights for incarcerated pregnant people on the books, they are only regulations, which are much easier to undo because they’re put in place by regulation agencies, not the legislature. “Always best to [have] something codified in a statute to make sure it can’t get changed easily,” she told Supermajority News.

The bill was constructed with a reproductive justice framework in mind. The legislation’s language is “very intentional,” according to Kandel, using “pregnant people” in place of “women” to legally not that women are not the only people who may become pregnant.

And the bill is not just about abortion. “That’s another really important point of this bill. Even in a state like California that has really strong abortion protections, there’s still so much need to improve reproductive care for some communities,” Kandel told Supermajority News.