FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: WW endorses Minnesota Healthy Start Act, calls for end of imprisoning pregnant people and caregivers in NS and Canada.
Wellness Within: An Organization for Health & Justice applauds the state of Minnesota for passing the Healthy Start Act, which will give incarcerated people who are pregnant the option of receiving pre- and post-natal care and giving birth in community settings. They will no longer be separated from their newborns shortly after birth. We urge Nova Scotia to implement a similar policy.
Currently, people who give birth or have babies while incarcerated in this province have restricted access to pre-natal or postpartum education and support. They risk losing custody of their babies, such as through the discriminatory and traumatic process known as “birth alerts”. With the exception of British Columbia, no province or territory in Canada has a program to support mothers and babies to stay together during a sentence. Both the federal Mother Child Program and the British Columbia Mother Baby Unit are situated in prison, not community.
Wellness Within started in response to the mistreatment of Julie Billota, who was forced to give birth to a breech baby alone in her Ottawa jail cell, without care or support. She was separated from her baby boy Gionni after his birth, and just as she was about to regain custody, he died at 13 months of age.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) stipulates every government decision must be made in the Best Interests of the Child. It is not in a child’s interest to be born in prison, separated from their primary parent, or raised in prison. Children and their caregivers belong in community, together.
Wellness Within is a registered non-profit organization working for reproductive justice, prison abolition, and health equity in Kjipuktuk, Mi’kma’ki (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Since our inception, Wellness Within has advocated for the end of imprisoning pregnant people and caregivers, and for decarceration and prison abolition more generally. Actively supporting pregnant people and those who have recently given birth to serve their sentences in the community would be a step toward these goals. It is a humane approach that will result in better health outcomes for parents and babies and will help break the cycles of trauma that lead to incarceration.