MomsRising blogs about IHR Clinic's Report on Shackling Pregnant Prisoners in the United States

Women's Rights are Human Rights: Making the Case against Shackling at the United Nations and the Nation's Capital

Rachel Roth
September 24, 2013

Advocates for the humane treatment of women are taking their fight onto the world stage, asking the United Nations to hold our government accountable for ensuring human rights here at home by ending the shackling of pregnant women.

And in the nation’s power center, the D.C. Council is considering legislation to do just that.

Human Rights Obligations

In 1992, the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, known as the ICCPR. By doing so, the U.S. government pledged to abide by the treaty’s standards and principles.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee monitors countries’ compliance with the ICCPR, which covers a range of critical areas, including the operation of the criminal justice system, the use of detention, and the treatment of people confined in prison.

The Committee has recommended since 2006 that the U.S. prohibit the shackling of pregnant women. Leading medical authorities support a ban on shackling because it jeopardizes women’s health and the safety of their pregnancies.

In preparation for the upcoming meeting with U.S. representatives, the Committee specifically asked the U.S. government whether it intends to “prohibit the shackling of detained pregnant women during transport, labor, delivery and post-delivery, under all circumstances.”

Documenting the Problem

To inform the Committee about ongoing problems, three organizations wrote a “shadow report” about shackling [the organizations are the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago, the ACLU National Prison Project, and  Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM)].

The report provides a snapshot of current law and practice. Today, 18 states have laws that limit the use of restraints on pregnant women.

Law professor Brian Citro, one of the authors of the shadow report, explains in a blog post that shackling is a double violation – it is both cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the ICCPR and cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution.

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