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N.Y. Law (Mostly) Bans Use of Shackles During Childbirth

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By Brian Kumnick on August 31, 2009 2:06 PM

Time to call it a trend: the AP reports that New York has just become the sixth state to ban the use of shackles during childbirth. (On prison and jail inmates, we mean; New York readers can stop worrying that free citizens might be chained to a bed by overzealous medical personnel. We hope.)

Perhaps, like us, you were under some quaint 21st-century notion that our civilized society would never chain down a woman in the throes of labor, prisoner or not. But apparently, there are still 40-plus states out there where nine-months-pregnant inmates are considered so threatening that they must be lashed in place. Even in New York, one vestige of the practice will remain: the new law allows inmates to be cuffed by one wrist during transport.
Not surprisingly, doctors, or at least professional medical associations, are not fans of this practice. The AP story reports that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists insists that being shackled while giving birth presents an unnecessary risk to a woman's health. But no one seems to have polled the state's OB/GYNs -- the ones who actually have to be in the room with such dangerous women -- to gauge their fear.

The bill met some resistance from corrections officers. They were concerned that they would be prohibited from restraining truly dangerous inmates, or that -- we are not making this up -- some unshackled prisoner/mother-to-be, somewhere, might actually get up and make a dash for it, notwithstanding that she's, you know, in the middle of having a baby. (Our tip to law enforcement: station someone about, oh, halfway between the bed and the delivery room door. That's about the max distance that any "escapee" is likely to achieve.)

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