“Shackling pregnant women interferes with a physician’s ability to treat mothers and their newborns, and it is an inhumane, unacceptable practice” Senator Karen Spilka.
Any person has the right of dignity and respect, and those who infringe this right are indeed criminals that must get their share of punishment. No one can imagine how shameful is to put a sick pregnant woman in shackles while she is giving birth. Despite being guilty, those pregnant women have the right of being cared for comprehensively before, during and after their labor. Why do we harm an innocent baby for a crime he didn’t commit? Why do our laws have to be applied strictly on the poor while letting other corrupt escape? Seems that Lady Justice is no longer blind!
Dahab Hamdy, 19-year-old pregnant woman, was arrested erroneously in Shubra, Cairo on January 14, 2014, being falsely accused of joining an illegal protest arranged by pro-Morsy activists belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. Dahab stated in an interview that she was heading with her friend to a hospital for performing routine antenatal check-up and instead she was detained in Al Amereya Police Headquarters, where she was told that she might have to give birth while being imprisoned and was urged to keep silent about that issue.
The teenager was admitted for ceserian section delivery and she was kept handcuffed in her bed during her labor and even after delivery, even though she is not convicted of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. Dahab was mistreated and she couldn’t care well for her baby and was allowed to be unchained after many pleas to go for the bathroom; however, her biggest fear was having to spend additional days in her detention where there is a total lack of health care for her and her young daughter. Dahab and her husband called their new born daughter “Horreya” which means freedom.
The absurd picture of the young lady being handcuffed stirred controversy among the public in Egypt, and the incident went viral on the social networks among the internet users. The authorities thus were forced to set “The Handcuff Lady” free eventually to avoid the sour critics from different activists and organizations. The case of Dahab Hamdy depicts an example of breaching human rights in the Egyptian prisons and how poor people are humiliated every now and then!
The practice of mistreating pregnant prisoners is slammed worldwide and similar cases were reported. Donna McLeish who was 21-year-old when imprisoned at Cornton Vale in 2008, was admitted to hospital because of complicated pregnancy and she suffered from the harsh treatment of her guardians who kept her chained during her sleep, examination and even when she had to enter her bath. She described that she was in complete agony when she tried to wash herself off blood and that she was “stripped of dignity”. Pauline Latu who was held in Contra Costa County Jail, was hospitalized for pre-eclampsia (a serious condition that endangers pregnancy) and she was shackled during her hospital stay to her bed, she even used a portable toilet because her chain wasn’t long enough to allow her to go to the bathroom. Another woman in Los Angeles was cuffed in an awkward position for long period of time that caused her shoulder to dislocate.
According to the medical perspective, handcuffing the pregnant women is entirely obsolete and this is approved by the Royal College of Midwives, which calls for developing a Prison Service Order which will ensure a minimum standard of care in pregnancy and the postnatal period wherever the woman is within the prison system. According to Medical Ethics Today: The BMA's Handbook of Ethics and Law, women in labor shouldn’t be handcuffed wither in route to, or while in, hospital. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) state that “shackling pregnant prisoners endangers the health and safety of both the mother and the fetus and is almost never justified by the need for safety and security”.
Many activist organizations call for the cessation of the practice of handcuffing pregnant women and women are starting to reap the benefit. In May 2012, a federal judge granted preliminarily approval of a settlement of $4.1 million dollars to women held in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois who alleged that they were shackled while in labor, being unlawful in that state. The Anti-Shackling Coalition belonging to The Rebecca Project for Justice is achieving successes in its endeavor for preventing this malpractice inflicted on imprisoned pregnant women. The bill to end shackling of pregnant women in immigration detention centers was signed and the end of this practice is looming in the near sight.
We do witness a gap between what is supposed to be done and what is actually done. Human rights are everyone’s own property that shouldn’t be encroached upon. The public opinions and the enthusiasm of activists is the hope for fighting the tyrannous practices against pregnant women in jail. We need to call for formulating laws that satisfies our right to be treated as humans with dignity. Unless we were armed with virtues and bravery, no shackles would be broken in the near future!
By Ahmed Magdi Youssef
Teenager randomly arrested in Egypt, gives birth while handcuffed. Middle East Monitor, Saturday, 15 February 2014
Prosecution releases Egyptian detainee who was handcuffed after giving birth. Ahram Online , Saturday 15 Feb 2014.
Lee Glendinning. Pregnant prisoner chained up in hospital 24 hours a day. The Guardian, Monday 28 April 2008.
Cat McShane and Eva Wiseman. Born behind bars. The Observer, Sunday 21 February 2010.
Rachel Zimmerman. Ban On Handcuffing Pregnant Inmates In Labor Clears Hurdle In Mass. Legislature. WBUR’s Common Health, 18 February 2014.
Karen Shain. Unchain my heart. Strong Families Reproductive Justice Blog, 7 May 2012.
Amy Fettig. $4.1 Million Settlement Puts Jails on Notice: Shackling Pregnant Women is Unlawful. 24 May 2012
The End Is Near For Shackling Pregnant Women At ICE Detention Centers. Birth Behind Bars, 21 January 2014.
Medical Ethics Today: The BMA's Handbook of Ethics and Law, Third Edition, by British Medical Association.
The Royal College of Midwives, Caring for Childbearing Prisoners, Position Statement.