Professor Jill Weinberg discusses the reproductive rights and healthcare of incarcerated women at a Merrin Moral Voices-sponsored Lunch and Learn lecture at Tufts Hillel building on Nov. 29. (Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily)

Merrin Moral Voices hosts Reproductive Rights in Prisons event

Assistant Professor of Sociology Jill Weinberg discussed the reproductive rights and healthcare of incarcerated women at a Merrin Moral Voices-sponsored lecture at Hillel on Wednesday.

Merrin Moral Voices is a Hillel initiative that aims to highlight the importance of speaking up on social justice issues through a distinguished lecture series, events and partnerships with student organizations, according to their website.

“Every year we choose a theme that we do events and programming around for the entire year. This year, we have chosen reproductive rights,” Sara Schiff, who serves as a co-chair of Moral Voices, said.

Schiff, a senior, also said that Moral Voices has chosen annual themes such as homelessness and gun violence in the past.

Weinberg opened her talk, entitled “Reproductive Rights Behind Bars,” by showing a video of Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN and medical anthropologist who provides care to women in jail. In this video, Sufrin explained that while 62 percent of women in state prison have children under the age of 18, getting quality healthcare is challenging for these women.

According to Weinberg, about 7 percent of incarcerated women are pregnant when they are sent to prison. Though prisoners have a constitutional right to healthcare, working as healthcare professional in the prison system is viewed as the “bottom” of the profession within the medical field, meaning these women may receive low-quality care.

“In California, for example, most of the doctors who work in the prison system have some sort of professional violation or sanction,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg also talked about abortion access for women in prisons. Though women in prisons are constitutionally entitled to abortion services, barriers are often created because these incarcerated women often cannot afford to pay for these services or transportation to hospitals.

“We rarely think about how these institutions navigate allowing a woman to have freedom of choice in a space where choice is something that we try to greatly curtail,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg finished her talk by discussing alternate programs that have been proposed. Some examples include doulas in Washington prisons, a California ban on nonconsensual inmate sterilization and prison nursery programs in Indiana and Canada.  Weinberg noted these programs sometimes draw criticism from those concerned about the effects of raising children behind bars.

A discussion followed the event, during which students asked about how spaces for mothers in prison are funded, statistics on what happens after incarcerated mothers leave prison and how incarcerated non-binary people fit into the conversation.

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