Legislation that would offer additional protections for imprisoned pregnant women cleared its first committee hearing Tuesday afternoon.
The bill (SB 630), sponsored by Sen. Shevrin Jones, would require that every woman in custody be notified that they have a right to ask for a pregnancy test, which must be administered within 24 hours of the request if she had been held over three days. The legislation passed through the Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously.
This is the second consecutive year Jones’ has filed such a bill. But this time, the measure is known as “Ava’s Law,” named after a newborn who died in August after being born in an Alachua County jail.
Erica Thompson, who was arrested and told jail staff she felt contractions, says she screamed for staff to help as she gave birth to the infant at just six months.
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 baby’s death has triggered protests outside the 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.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has promised an investigation into the incident.
Among other provisions, the proposal 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.
Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart has filed an identical bill in the House (HB 363). It still awaits its first committee hearing.
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 inmates.