Four to five percent of women are pregnant when they enter a prison or jail and individuals can become pregnant while incarcerated during private visits with their partners, home visits, while in work release programs, or through sexual assault. Correctional authorities are legally obligated to meet inmates’ medical needs, whether the person decides to continue her pregnancy or obtain an abortion.1,2
Even though incarcerated persons have the right to obtain an abortion, policies and practices differ depending on the correctional authorities in charge, the experience of pregnant person in their custody, and the state, county, and facility.3 The Illinois Department of Corrections, which administers Illinois state prisons, recognizes incarcerated persons' right to terminate a pregnancy.4
However, even when policies exist, studies show that obtaining an abortion while incarcerated presents many challenges, such as facilities’ ad hoc responses to abortion requests and the logistics and challenges of organizing transportation and paying for the procedure.3,5 The Hyde Amendment restricts funding abortions for women in federal prisons and many state prisons and local jails still refuse to fund abortions. Following the state’s Medicaid guidelines, Illinois state prisons provide funding for abortions only in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the life or health of the pregnant person. Without government funding, indivdiuals must rely on their own resources and donations. (See Abortion Funds section)
Health and social service providers offering counseling to incarcerated persons considering abortion should recognize that additional coordination will be needed in order to access care. The individual seeking care should be encouraged to speak with the necessary staff so that a facility can be identified, funds can be gathered, and transportation and other logistics can be scheduled. Incarcerated persons may also discuss other barriers to health that could benefit from appropriate referrals.