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Pregnant inmates in Arizona reportedly induced into labor against their will: ‘We are still state property’

Three women incarcerated in one Arizona prison recently claimed that they had been induced into labor early, even though they had never consented to early inductions and wanted to give birth at their natural times.

The three women — 34-year-old Jocelyn Heffner, 21-year-old Stephanie Pearson, and 37-year-old Desiree Romero — are all currently behind bars at Perryville prison, about 23 miles west of Phoenix. Heffner, who has a long history of drug offenses, and Romero are both serving time for drug-related crimes, while Pearson is serving a sentence of almost two years for forgery. All three women were pregnant at the onset of their current sentences, and all three said that they were forced to give birth anywhere from a week up to three weeks early because of a policy established by the Arizona Department of Corrections.

The three spoke to the Arizona Republic about their claims and consented for the news outlet to examine their medical records. From their medical records, the Arizona Republic determined that, last year, Pearson and Romero were both induced at 39 weeks, while Heffner was induced at just 37 weeks. Heffner had also been pregnant during a previous sentence she served in 2020. Medical records indicate that she had been induced at 37 weeks for that pregnancy as well.

Though labor can be induced safely at 39 weeks and perhaps even earlier if necessary, the women claimed that they were not induced for medical reasons but because of ADOC policy.

“They said they induce everyone because they don’t want anyone going into labor here,” Pearson said.

“They just told me that someone on a different yard a few years ago went into labor in their cell and had their baby in the cell, and that’s why they induce everyone now,” she added.

Romero made a similar statement.

“They induce us all now so that we don’t go into labor in prison,” Romero alleged. “I’m quite used to the prison making all these decisions for us because we are still state property.”

“I felt like I was viewed as a liability,” Heffner added, “and walking around a prison yard nine months pregnant didn’t comfort this state institution.”

The women claimed that, after their respective deliveries, they were permitted to spend 72 hours with their newborn, as required by state law, but otherwise received improper care. They claimed that they were denied prenatal nourishment and that they were given only an added serving of milk and occasionally a peanut butter sandwich after their baby was born. Two of the women also alleged that they had received a bill for some of the medical services related to delivery, even though the state and/or state contractors are supposed to assume those costs.

ADOC did not respond to requests for comment from the Arizona Republic, nor did Centurion, the company which provided medical care at ADOC facilities until October 1.

NaphCare, which began providing medical care for ADOC inmates on that date, has no policy regarding forced labor inductions. “Any decision to induce is solely the patient’s choice,” a NaphCare spokesperson said.

“[T]hey didn’t explain any of the risks to me,” Pearson stated. “Just because I made some bad choices in my life, they shouldn’t be allowed to make bad health choices for me and my baby.”

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