Abortion in U.S. Prisons: How to Whisper Behind Bars

Knowing your reproductive rights in prison is a community effort

By Victoria Law

and Aviva Stahl

Art by Fred Harper

A woman in a white jumpsuit and handcuffs behind shadowy glass
Photograph of Kwaneta Harris by Ariana Gomez

There are no abortion rights in prison. While it’s technically true that incarcerated people have the same legal right to abortion as people who are outside, the reality of prisons and jails is that very few people can get an abortion while they are locked up. One study found that, between 2016 and 2017, only 11 out of 1,396 pregnancies behind bars ended in abortion. In jails, 33 of 224 pregnancies ended in abortion. In contrast, the United States had 11.2 abortions per 1,000 women between ages 15 to 44 in 2020.

These statistics are all from before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Dobbs v. Jackson endangered the legal right to abortion. Reproductive health access is now more precarious than ever, and incarcerated people will be among those who face the most oppressive barriers to getting an abortion. They will also be the ones who will face the most brutal consequences for that lack of access.

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