Bail Granted for Pregnant HIV-Positive Woman Originally Sentenced to Give Birth in Prison
June 16, 2009
Many of you have been following the case of Ms. T, a 28 year-old HIV-positive pregnant woman from Cameroon who was recently sentenced to 238 days in prison by a judge trying to protect her unborn child from being born with HIV. Ms. T has spent nearly six months in the Cumberland County Jail in Maine.
It is with much relief that I tell you -- Ms. T was released yesterday on bail, perhaps ironically, for the same reason that the judge originally imprisoned her, and efforts are proceeding forward to appeal her initial sentence.
Since the first public news of Ms. T's sentence, there has been a tremendous outpouring of support, uniting advocates in HIV/AIDS, detention and imprisonment, reproductive health, and racial justice movements, including many of you in our UNSHACKLE national network.
With the support of this broad-based coalition of individuals and organizations, National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Center for HIV Law and Policy filed an emergency amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief challenging the imprisonment of an HIV positive pregnant woman in order to protect her "innocent" "unborn child." The brief was timed to reach Judge Woodcock before Ms. T's bail hearing yesterday, providing him with a picture of the hurdles to meeting necessary care for HIV-positive pregnant women in even the best of prison health care systems.
It was because of concerns around the continuity and quality of health care, particularly while Ms. T would have been in transit from the county jail to a federal prison, that Judge Woodcock released her on bail Monday afternoon. Ms. T is now working closely with the team at the Frannie Peabody Center, a Maine ASO she first connected with while she was in custody, her attorney, Zachary Heiden of the MCLU, and the legal team at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.
But work to protect Ms.T's access to in-community care and support is not over. As efforts to appeal Ms. T's sentence at the First District Court level and address her immigration issues proceed, we will continue to reach out to all of you in our UNSHACKLE network for support. And as the immediate crisis of Ms. T's case eases, we hope that this growing coalition of organizations will be a consistent advocacy presence. Ms. T's case has shone a light on the issues that so many in our communities are moving through daily; her story cuts deep through the intersections of HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, immigration and racial justice that are at the heart our work together.
A dear friend of mine once said, "Half of your rights haven't been written yet because you haven't been here to demand them." If we can, in concert, find some lasting transformation to the structures that allowed Ms. T to be imprisoned in the first place, then, perhaps, we can say that justice will be done.
For a copy of the amicus brief and supporting materials, please see the National Advocates for Pregnant Women's post, "Bail granted for imprisoned HIV-positive pregnant woman."
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This article was provided by Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project.