‘The NYPD updated their patrol guide to prohibit restraining arrestees in labor. But the policy will not be worth the paper it is printed on unless the NYPD educates officers. And if the department needs help, I will volunteer myself to visit each precinct with a bullhorn to hammer it home.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

As chair of the City Council Public Safety Committee, I have an obligation to ensure that every New Yorker receives dignified treatment from law enforcement. However, I am appalled at how the NYPD treated an arrestee. In December 2018, the NYPD arrested a pregnant African-American woman on a minor charge that was later dismissed.  At the time, she was two days past her due date and having contractions.  She had to sit in a cell while another arrestee volunteered to time her contractions.  As she began to go into active labor, she attempted to get the attention of precinct staff, but they were attending a holiday party.  Only after a new shift started, and an inspection of her genitals, did she receive medical attention.

Before getting into an ambulance, officers put her in shackles, which remained on during her medical exam, then handcuffed her in the delivery room. An officer asserted this was NYPD policy. The officers only removed the handcuffs following the pleas of a nurse, then handcuffed the woman yet again an hour after delivery. As a result, she had to breastfeed her newborn with only one arm.

This treatment is unconscionable and has no place in a civilized society. No woman in labor should be subjected to such savage treatment during what is supposed to be a beautiful and joyous moment.

What exactly does the NYPD think a woman in labor is going to do that she needs restraints? Is she going to commandeer the ambulance on the way to the hospital? Will she assault an officer in the middle of labor? Is she going to spring up and bolt when her child comes out? One also wonders if officers would act the same if the woman in labor were white, or if the arrestee were a man passing a kidney stone.

The medical community agrees that handcuffing women during pregnancy is not only degrading, but also undermines healthcare delivery. So much so that the American Medical Association officially denounced the practice. And the official position of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states, “Shackling is demeaning and is rarely necessary. It compromises a physician’s ability to provide compassionate health care.”

You might be thinking, “If the shackling of women in labor is so bad, then we should make it illegal in New York.” As a matter of fact, New York State already did, three years before this barbaric incident.

So how did it happen anyway? Because the state law has a gaping loophole: officers can still restrain a woman in labor if the officer “in consultation with the chief medical officer has made an individualized determination that restraints are necessary to prevent such woman from injuring herself or medical or correctional personnel.”  So all it takes for an officer to handcuff a woman in labor is to claim any movement by the mother is a “threatening gesture,” and then intimidate a healthcare worker into going along with it.

Albany must amend the law to remove this loophole. No woman in labor is going to pose so great a threat that she needs restraints. If someone knows of an incident that proves otherwise, I would be happy to hear it.

Encouragingly, after this incident the NYPD updated their patrol guide to prohibit restraining arrestees in labor. But the policy will not be worth the paper it is printed on unless the NYPD educates officers. And if the department needs help, I will volunteer myself to visit each precinct with a bullhorn to hammer it home.

The NYPD must not only educate officers, but also hold them accountable for violating this rule.  After all, Officer Daniel Pantaleo used a chokehold even though the NYPD patrol guide already prohibited using them. And after unambiguously violating the rule, he remained on the payroll for five years. So if the NYPD is serious about addressing this horrific abuse to pregnant women, there must be a zero tolerance policy for any officer restraining a woman in labor.  The punishment cannot be reassignment to desk duty with full pay.

We are a nation that prohibits the use of cruel and unusual punishment. If shackling a woman going into labor does not qualify, then I do not know what does. We must prohibit the practice, and do so for real, not with a loophole big enough to drive a truck through. A restraint on a woman in labor is a restraint on our very humanity.

Adrienne Adams is a New York City councilwoman representing the 28th District in Queens.

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