The Legislature advanced a bill Thursday that would protect pregnant prisoners from being restrained, to protect their health and the safety of the fetus they are carrying.
The bill (LB690), introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, would prohibit the shackling of women in prison who are pregnant, especially during labor and delivery.
In December, President Donald Trump signed into law a ban on shackling of pregnant women in federal prisons.
According to the bill in the Legislature, shackling or restraining a woman in this circumstance is unnecessary and dangerous to her health and well-being, and creates an unnecessary risk to the baby during birth.
Leg and wrist restraints increase the likelihood that a pregnant woman could trip and would compromise her ability to brace herself against a fall, Cavanaugh said, risking miscarriage and injury. Belly or waist restraints can bruise a woman's abdomen and cause a risk to fetal health.
The stress of shackles can also cause mental distress and health risks.
After giving birth, restraints can cause a higher risk of blood clots, which can lead to stroke or heart attack.
The majority of women are not violent offenders, Cavanaugh said. There's no report of a pregnant, unshackled woman attempting to escape during labor or delivery, she said.
"This bill at least allows some shred of dignity for a woman who's about to give birth to a child," Cavanaugh said. "And I think we as a state, and we as a body, owe that to all women, all mothers."
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A study of 22 state and federal prisons by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers showed that over a 12-month period in 2016-17, about 1,400 already pregnant women were admitted. These prisons house 57 percent of imprisoned women in the United States.
Cavanaugh said there has been no documentation that shackles were used on pregnant women in Nebraska prisons. But it is not only possible but likely that it is happening in Nebraska, she said.
By June 1, 2020, and annually after that, administrators must submit a report to the Nebraska Inspector General for Corrections describing any restraint use on a pregnant prisoner in the preceding calendar year.
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers said people have an innate dignity that even their own conduct cannot obliterate.
"They may have lost their way, but that spark always remains," he said. "Once a human, always a human. But sometimes inhumane."
The possibility of this happening to pregnant prisoners is enough for the Legislature to make sure that it is not left to the good intentions of people to not do these things, Chambers said.
"We have to guard against it," he said.
Some senators said they had some concerns about a section of the bill that would allow a prison administrator to make an individualized determination that there are extraordinary circumstances that would call for shackles or restraints.
The bill advanced on a 43-0 vote.