Thrown in jail for getting pregnant? That seems like a particularly absurd violation of women's reproductive rights. But it's actually an established policy in Allegheny County, PA: for Amy Lynn Gillespie, becoming pregnant meant violating the terms of her work release probation, and getting thrown in jail. Yet this story comes to an even more tragic ending, because Gillespie died while in custody from advanced pneumonia.
Gillespie's grieving mother has decided not to let the people who allowed her daughter to die off the hook: she has a lawsuit against the Allegheny County jail warden, Allegheny Correctional Health Services Inc., the country itself, and a few other implicated individuals charging that medical neglect caused Gillespie's death. Though the young woman spent weeks complaining to guards of trouble breathing and mucus in her lungs, they refused to send her for medical care until it was too late. The hospital, which is not charged in the lawsuit, says that Gillespie was beyond saving due to the long delay in getting her treatment.
To imprison a woman for becoming pregnant is a violation of her human rights, and should not be a condition of work release. To then neglect her, when the very pregnant condition she was locked up for meant that she needed extra attention, is horrifying. The crimes that got her in trouble with the law in the first place were minor shoplifting (when caught stealing food, she told the police officer she was hungry) and prostitution (which, though illegal, hurts nobody). Amy Lynn Gillespie's unnecessary death is nothing short of tragic, and highlights deep flaws with the Allegheny County prison system.
New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice is organizing to call attention to Gillespie's case.
You can help to protect women's reproductive rights and health by signing this petition telling Allegheny County to remove pregnancy as a work release violation and improve oversight of medical treatment in its jail.
Photo credit: J.K. Califf