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 who 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.
The bill makes further reaching systemic changes for pregnant women by requiring medical malpractice insurance cover vaginal and caesarian births, extending the statute of limitations to three years for civil lawsuits alleging lack of informed consent for medical procedures, and authorizing the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to receive reports on allegations of improper maternity care.
The bill also repeals language excluding pregnant women from Colorado Advance Directive laws which allows for people to make medical decisions in the event they are unconscious or incompetent. The current law means that physicians can override previously written and signed advanced directives when providing healthcare, Herod said.
Lizzy Hinkley, Reproductive Rights Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union branch of Colorado, said the current statute singles out pregnant people and deprives them of their rights. “The pregnancy exclusion unconstitutionally denies pregnant people due process and equal protection under law,” Hinkley said.
The Colorado Catholic Conference said it opposes this part of the bill because it would remove protections for a “preborn viable baby when a woman is on life support,” which exists under the Advance Directive provision.
As a result, the bill “could create a situation where a woman with an advanced directive could have the life of her viable baby ended because her advanced directive did not anticipate that situation – even if she would not choose to end her child’s life otherwise,” a spokesperson for the Colorado Catholic Conference said.
The bill passed on a 7-4 vote. It will go on to the House Appropriations committee.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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