Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones says in light of a newborn dying earlier this month after being born in an Alachua County jail, he’ll refile a measure protecting pregnant women who are arrested.
Erica Thompson says she screamed for staff to help as she gave birth to the infant at just six months. Thompson says when she was arrested she told jail staff she felt contractions.
“When I said that, I felt like all bets were off, everybody needs to be coming in here trying to check on me and see what’s going on,” she told CBS 4. “I’ve had kids before, so I know exactly how it feels. I’m about to have my baby, I’m not just talking.”
Thompson said she gave birth alone in her cell. Her child was transferred to the hospital alive but later died. Doctors said the baby was too small to survive. Thompson says the baby could have been saved if officials had provided quicker treatment at the jail.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has promised an investigation into the incident. But Sen. Jones, who has worked to protect the rights of women inmates before, said he’ll be filing legislation to codify additional protections into law.
“Today I am re-filing the ‘Protecting the Dignity of Women and Infants Act’ and renaming it ‘Ava’s Law’ in the lost child’s memory,” Jones said in a Tuesday statement.
“Women are the fastest growing prison population in this country, and yet, they are treated shamefully. Accessible care ought to be a human right because all people, regardless of societal or economic status, deserve safe, healthy environments, access to basic necessities, and above all, dignity.”
Jones’ legislation would require officials to notify women who are arrested that they have a right to ask for a pregnancy test, according to a release from the Senator. That test must be administered if she is not released on bond within 72 hours of her arrest.
Among other provisions, the bill would also require women to be provided with “a postpartum pregnancy assessment, which includes information regarding any necessary medical tests, procedures, lactation support, or treatments associated with her postpartum condition,” if requested.
The baby’s death has triggered protests outside the Alachua County jail where Thompson was held. Jones represents portions of South Florida. His district stretches across Broward and Miami-Dade counties. But Jones has been active in this area before.
In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation sponsored by Jones that requires correctional facilities to provide feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes and toilet paper at no cost to women.
“This is shameful, disgusting, and should not happen to any woman anywhere, especially those who are vulnerable and under government care,” Jones said of the recent incident.
“I share the community’s calls for a full, thorough, and transparent investigation, and ultimately, accountability.”