October 2, 2009

NEW YORK - Ruling in the
case of an Arkansas woman who was shackled to her hospital bed while in labor in
2003, a federal appeals court today said that constitutional protections against
shackling pregnant women during labor had been clearly established by decisions
of the Supreme Court and the lower courts. This is the first time a circuit
court has made such a determination. The full Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
made the ruling today in the case of ACLU client Shawanna Nelson.

is a historic decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals that affirms the dignity of
all women and mothers in America,” said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the
American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “Correctional
officials across the country are now on notice that they can no longer engage in
this widespread practice.”

Nelson was a 29-year-old non-violent offender
who was six months pregnant with her second child when she was incarcerated by
the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADOC) in June 2003. Three months later,
after going into labor, she was taken to a local hospital where correctional
officers shackled her legs to opposite sides of the bed. Nelson remained
shackled to the bed for several hours of labor until she was finally taken to
the delivery room.

The shackles caused Nelson cramps and intense pain, as
she could not adjust her position during contractions. She was unshackled during
delivery, but was immediately re-shackled after the birth of her son. After
childbirth, the use of shackles caused her to soil the sheets of her bed because
she could not be unshackled quickly enough to get to a

“Restraining a pregnant woman can pose undue health risks to
the woman and her pregnancy,” said Diana Kasdan, staff attorney with the ACLU
Reproductive Freedom Project. “Today’s decision reaffirms that pregnant women in
prison do not lose their right to safe and humane treatment.”

filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against ADOC and several ADOC officials,
and a federal district court judge ruled that a jury should decide whether her
treatment violated the constitution. A three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit
Court of Appeals, however, dismissed Nelson’s case by ruling that her shackling
was not unconstitutional. The ACLU represented Nelson in a subsequent hearing
before the full Eighth Circuit Court which found that legal precedent clearly
establishes the constitutional protections against shackling pregnant women in
labor, paving the way for Nelson’s lawsuit to go to trial.

pregnant women is not only dangerous it is inhumane,” said Rita Sklar, Executive
Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “The importance of this decision cannot be

The National Perinatal Association, American College of
Nurse Midwives, American Medical Women’s Association, the Rebecca Project for
Human Rights and dozens of other public health and advocacy organizations that
are dedicated to protecting the health and rights of women and their children
also opposed the prison's shackling of Nelson.

A copy of today’s ruling
by the Eighth Circuit is available online at:?