Colorado bill aims to protect pregnant women’s rights

Colorado News

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado bill aims to improve healthcare for pregnant women, including those who are incarcerated, less than three years since a woman filed a federal lawsuit after giving birth in a Denver jail cell with no medical care.

Diana Sanchez gave birth alone in her jail cell in July 2018 after deputies and nurses allegedly ignored her pleas during about five hours of labor. Sanchez and her son will receive nearly $500,000 in periodic installments from a lawsuit settlement with the city and Denver Health Medical Center, which employed the jail’s nurses.

But her lawyer, Mari Newman, said the outcomes aren’t always positive, noting that an incarcerated woman she represented over 20 years ago lost her baby because she didn’t receive care. Legislation is “critically necessary” because things haven’t changed, Newman said.

“Evidence has shown that we can’t depend on jails and prisons to provide even the most basic, common sense and humane care to women to are giving birth in custody,” Newman said.

The bill, which passed the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, would establish requirements for incarceration facilities with custody of pregnant women to have staff training, policies to promote their health and safety, be able to transfer health records and connect women in their postpartum period to community resources.

Newman said Sanchez’s settlement included mandatory training for jails and prisons and a policy that women in labor are to be taken to the hospital.

Currently, inmates cannot bring newborns back to their permanent facility and are not allowed visitors during their hospital stay. Newborn children are placed in the community based on a pregnancy plan, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The bill would require the state’s health department to institute a policy by 2022 that allows newborns to remain with their families for those who are in custody.

The Colorado Department of Corrections is not allowed to restrain inmates during labor and delivery, with an exception for wrist restraints if “they pose an immediate and serious risk of harm to themselves or others, or pose a substantial escape risk,” according to the fiscal note.

The bill would also require that the department and private prisons submit annual records about the use of restraints on pregnant women in their facilities and the number of births in their custody to the Legislature.

“This is a health equity issue. But it’s also a health issue for all women in the state and all pregnant people in this state,” Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod, one of the bill’s sponsors, said of the legislation.

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