Illinois Jails Breach Pregnant Women’s Rights, Study Shows

Estimated read time 5 min read

A recent report has unveiled a troubling pattern of jails in Illinois failing to uphold the rights of pregnant inmates. These facilities consistently undermine pregnant individuals’ access to necessary reproductive healthcare. The case of Paige, who was imprisoned at Winnebago County Jail in 2021 and later discovered she was expecting, brought this issue into stark relief.

Even though state law promises reproductive healthcare, including the option for an abortion, Paige encountered many hurdles when trying to obtain the medical services she required. Her situation is indicative of a widespread problem across Illinois’ correctional institutions.


Paige’s Fight for Access

When Paige attempted to arrange an abortion by using the jail’s digital comm system, all she got back was an emoji with a downturned mouth. Given her history with high-risk pregnancies and the subpar healthcare within the facility, she grew very anxious about her safety and what might happen to her four kids outside if anything went wrong. Her plea for help,

When it was time for prenatal care, the medical team at the jail didn’t follow up as they should have. This made Paige have to clearly ask for a visit with a doctor.

In her pregnancy, Paige wasn’t just denied an abortion. she also missed doctors’ appointments and had the humiliation of being handcuffed during labor. The rules in jail made things harder for her. They kept her from knowing about medical visits ahead of time to stop any chance of escape and this made everything more difficult. Paige’s experience isn’t unique. It shows a bigger problem for pregnant people in Illinois jails who are at risk because there isn’t enough consistent policy or care.


A Systemic Issue

Local jails in Illinois often run on their own, with hardly anyone watching over them. Because of that, pregnant inmates can really have their rights ignored. A report put together by the Women’s Justice Institute and ACLU Illinois has brought attention to these problems by showing that a lot of times, these jails are missing clear rules about reproductive health.

Health care, including options for pregnancy, care after birth, and abortion rights.

In jails across the nation, about 3% of women arriving are pregnant. However, no one knows the exact numbers for Illinois because they don’t keep track properly. The fact that jails can do what they want means there’s not enough responsibility or steady health care. For example, the study shows that just two out of three Illinois jails actually have rules written down that say you can’t use handcuffs on women having a baby. And even less have full plans for looking after these women when they’re pregnant or have just given birth.


Laws and Steps Ahead

Illinois led the way in 1999 by making laws to stop chaining up pregnant ladies when they’re having a baby or just had one. But almost 25 years on, not every jail in Illinois is following these rules right. The Expecting Justice report suggests we should come up with standard.

It’s important for all county jails to have clear policies that protect the rights and health of pregnant people.

Leaders and supporters are calling for new rules across the state. They want to stop unneeded handcuffing of pregnant and recently pregnant inmates. They also suggest setting up a group to gather information and offer more advice on this issue. Making these changes is crucial for fixing existing problems and making sure everyone gets the care they need.


Individual Stories Highlight Broader Injustices

The stories of women like Paige, talked about in the Expecting Justice report, show how much we need change. The awful ways pregnant women are treated in jail – from not getting the medical help they need to be tied up when they’re at their most fragile – shows a clear lack of respect for their basic rights.

A woman shared her story about being handcuffed and badly treated by an emergency team at the Will County Jail, despite being told about her pregnancy. These kinds of events not only pose risks to the pregnant person and the baby they’re carrying but also show a worrying lack of caring and professionalism in the jail system.



The issue with pregnant women’s rights being ignored in Illinois jails is a serious problem that shows we’re failing to protect basic human and reproductive rights. The “Expecting Justice” report is like an alarm bell, telling us we need to do something now. If we come up with clear rules, watch more closely over the jails, and make sure people are held responsible for their actions, Illinois could take much better care of pregnant people it’s responsible for. What happened to Paige and many others should make us want to tackle these problems that are deeply rooted in our system and do so with heart.

Celina Brooks

Celina Brooks from Mussoorie is a Writer & Researcher. She earned her Engineering degree in IT from Rutgers University. She is a technology enthusiast but loves writing and talking about local news as well. She is a jolly person with 2 children.

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