When the punishment is pregnancy: Women denied abortions because of incarceration
Awarded 2017
Large Research Grants
Carolyn Sufrin, MD, PhD
Johns Hopkins University

Abortion restrictions disproportionately impact vulnerable populations. Incarcerated women, despite retaining their constitutional right to abortion, face restricted abortion access due to absent or inconsistent institutional policies, court order requirements, payment restrictions, and other impediments on top of the usual barriers women encounter. The over 210,000 incarcerated women are disproportionately women of color and most are of reproductive age. Some enter prison and jail pregnant, often first learning of the pregnancy upon intake and thus, if they choose, need abortion care. When incarceration prevents a woman from accessing abortion, carrying an unwanted pregnancy then becomes part of her punishment. This will be a qualitative study exploring the experiences of imprisoned, pregnant women who could not terminate unwanted pregnancies because of their incarceration. We will recruit pregnant women getting prenatal care in prison and jail in two states, with sites selected based on state abortion laws, geographic convenience, and abortion data from the Principal Investigator’s current study. Women had wanted abortions will be asked details about their attempts to obtain abortion and how the environment of confinement influenced their pregnancy decision-making and abortion attempts. To assess feasibility of a future longitudinal study, we will contact women at three and six months after their pregnancy has ended. In a time when increasing abortion restrictions are likely, policies will disproportionately impact incarcerated women, one of the most underserved groups of women, whose incarceration deliberately limits their autonomy. This study will demonstrate the dual impact of abortion access and mass incarceration on the lives of incarcerated women.