Senate Bill 193, the legislation prompted by a Boulder Weekly investigation into the practice of shackling pregnant inmates while they are in labor, cleared the Colorado Senate on second reading Tuesday.
But the bill sparked a debate on the Senate floor that had both sides of the abortion issue squaring off over a proposed amendment to the bill. That amendment, brought by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, stressed that any regulations limiting the shackling of inmates in labor is not just about protecting the mother, but also the unborn baby.
King’s amendment, which failed, would have tacked a legislative declaration onto the bill containing language about how various types of restraints, from handcuffs to belly belts, can threaten the health and safety of both the mother and the unborn baby and called for the use of “best practices” in the treatment of pregnant women who are incarcerated.
But the language about protecting the baby prompted opposition among Democrats and pro-choice groups.
While both Republicans and Democrats praised the bill itself and urged their colleagues to vote in favor of it, they took turns at the podium arguing about King’s amendment.
King outlined the provisions of the amendment and said it had the support of Boulder Weekly Editor Pamela White, who penned the Feb. 18 Boulder Weekly article about the shackling of inmates in labor — and spearheaded the effort to pass legislation regulating the practice. Citing an editorial endorsing SB 193 in the Colorado Springs Gazette, King said that even White, “a self-professed feminist liberal, says she fully supports this declaration.”
The bill’s Senate sponsor, Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, countered that the amendment is unnecessary because it simply restates the arguments for the bill and doesn’t add anything new.
“If you agree with what he just said, you should simply support the bill,” she said.
Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, joined Hudak in arguing against the amendment.
King insisted that the language was not intended to ignite a political debate.
“This isn’t partisan,” he said. “This has nothing to do with abortion.”
Several other Republican senators testified in favor of King’s amendment, including Sen. Josh Penry of Grand Junction, Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud and Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs. They urged the Senate to at least acknowledge that the bill would also help protect unborn babies.
“It’s not an ostrich, it’s a baby being born here,” Schultheis said.
After the amendment was defeated, Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, said the measure failed because pro-choice group NARAL and Planned Parenthood weighed in.
“This has nothing to do with abortion; [the women] chose to have the baby,” he said. “But one side of the aisle is so blatantly blind that we can’t put that amendment on.”
Still, the two sides were unanimous when it came to supporting the bill itself. It passed on a voice vote.
“I couldn’t believe some of the shackling going on,” said King, who voted in favor of the bill when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it on April 30. “How many people are going to be fleeing during childbirth? They can’t go anywhere, they’re giving birth to a baby!”
King cited a case in Pennsylvania in which a prison guard temporarily left his post. The laboring mother’s life became endangered, so the doctor began using a hacksaw to cut through the chains because he didn’t have the key.
And Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, pointed to the recent ruling in Nelson v. Norris by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which called shackling an inmate in labor a violation of the 8th Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.”
Steadman said that case arose because of an incident in Arkansas in which a woman gave birth with both legs shackled to the bedposts.
“I can’t tell you how outraged I was to hear about that,” he said. “It’s horrendous, barbaric and outdated for this to happen in a correctional facility.”
A fiscal note had been attached to the bill at the request of the Department of Corrections, which argued that additional guards would be necessary if laboring inmates are unshackled. But that fiscal note was removed by Senate Appropriations on April 30.
SB 193 is expected to go to a third and final vote in the Senate as early as Wednesday. If it passes, it will move on to the House.