Friday, April 15, 2016

Reproductive justice, birth justice, and criminal justice

With the help of a recent grant, the University of California, San Francisco collaborated with the Birth Justice Project and Black Women Birthing Justice Collective to form a new nonprofit, the East Bay Community Birth Support Project.

In 2011, UCSF students began providing doula support for pregnant women in the San Francisco County jail through the Birth Justice Project. A doula is an experienced and trained professional who provides continuous emotional and physical support to a mother before, during, and after a birth. Doulas are also able to provide emotional and practical support during a mother's postpartum period. Additionally, birthing communities have shown an increased amount of support for abortion doulas. An abortion doula also provides emotional, physical, and informational support to a pregnant woman, however they support the woman through the process of having an abortion and after the abortion. (For an interesting read on abortion doulas, see My Year as an Abortion Doula).

Through the Birth Justice Project, doulas are able to provide support and companionship to women giving birth at San Fransisco General, the public hospital that treats women from San Francisco County jail. Because of safety concerns and regulations, when incarcerated women go to the hospital to give birth they aren't able to have friends or family visit for more than one hour. Doulas are able to provide consistent companionship and support throughout a labor. Nicole Sata, a co-founder of the Birth Justice Project, said her goal is to provide "loving, respectful and empowered birth and postpartum support to women at San Francisco's jail."

With the help of a 2014 grant from Alameda County's Innovations in Reentry, the East Bay Community Birth Support Project was able to expand their doula services to Santa Rita jail and begin a doula training program for formerly incarcerated women. Innovations in Reentry grants help to support projects that reduce recidivism in Alameda County. By offering doula training programs, the Easy Bay Community Birth Support Project hopes to ease women back into their communities upon release from jail, while also fostering strong relationships with their new babies. Additionally, the women will have a supportive space within the doula community when they are released.

The program in its entirety is a poster child for the reproductive justice movement. Not only does it focus on the intersection of both birth justice and criminal justice, but the program places women of color in positions of power within their own communities.

To date, sixteen women have gone through the doula training program and not one has returned to jail. The program's goal to "give them the skills and self-esteem necessary to earn a living and, if they chose, to further their education and purse other careers, including health care" appears to be successful. The doulas have supported over 60 births and as awareness of the program grows, the demand for their services throughout the Bay Area is ever-increasing.

1 comment:

Meredith Hankins said...

Courtney, thanks so much for sharing this success story! Reproductive and criminal justice can both be such depressing topics these days, it's so great to see something like this. It's sad that something like this had to be funded through a grant rather than through government support. Win-win scenarios like this are so infrequently seen as worth investing in (both from the private and public sectors) when the only winners are women. Reminds me of trying to convince conservatives of the importance of funding family planning and birth control - it's just impossible to get past the ideological divide and demonstrate that funding birth control results in lower costs to the taxpayers overall in terms of fewer unplanned pregnancies, fewer stresses on the social welfare net, AND fewer abortions. But who cares when it's women (and poor, minority women at that) who benefit the most.