Last week, we finally got the verdict in the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos case and it’s a bombshell. Holmes was sentenced to over 11 years in a federal prison (where there is no parole) for defrauding a group of investors in a collapsed blood-testing start up, and given a date in April 2023 to report to prison.
While the sentence was not the maximum she could have received, it was still severe. Her team had pushed for home arrest or 18 months as a maximum. The government sought a 15 year sentence. In sentencing her, the judge said the charges she had been found guilty of made her responsible for defrauding ten people out of $121 million.
Despite the breadth of Holmes’ grift, many were surprised to see her get such a harsh sentence—in part because of her immense wealth (let’s be honest, poor and rich people are treated very differently by the legal system most of the time), in part because she is a young, attractive woman, and mostly because of one sympathy inducing condition at the moment: Holmes is currently pregnant.
It seemed when the news broke that a large percentage of the population was completely unaware the US puts pregnant people in prison—an issue that justice reform activists like myself have long tried to raise.
Shoutout to Elizabeth Holmes whose upcoming incarceration has apparently suddenly alerted a whole army of columnists and DC pundits in the year 2022 to the fact women having babies does not cancel their jail terms
— Shiv Ramdas Traing To Rite Buk (@nameshiv) November 19, 2022
If you’re concerned about Elizabeth Holmes being pregnant while incarcerated, whew. Wait til you hear about all the not super rich people who are pregnant while incarcerated.
— Sam White (@samwhiteout) November 19, 2022
It’s important to point out a few things here. First, Holmes isn’t required to report until April…so she won’t still be pregnant when she goes to prison. And secondly, this is a privilege not afforded the vast majority of pregnant women who encounter the system. Quite the opposite.
Somewhere between 3 to 10 percent of women (depending on the level of incarceration we’re looking at) are pregnant when they report in. And the treatment that awaits them behind bars is quite ghastly.
The outcomes for pregnant women in some jails and prisons are worse than national trends (which are also not great) across the general population. In states like Arizona, Kansas, and Minnesota, rate of miscarriage ranged between 19-22%. Premature births exceeded national trends by 10% in states like Ohio and Massachusetts.
55,000 comes from this important study. It shows rates of preterm birth, complications, and miscarriages are far higher among incarcerated populations than free. Quality of pregnancy care behind bars is wildly variable; in many cases, it's horrific. 3/ https://t.co/aKexHgF3Ha
— Eric Reinhart (@_Eric_Reinhart) November 19, 2022
And while a lot of work has gone into preventing the shackling of women during the birthing process in prison, there are still 13 states that allow it. President Donald Trump thankfully banned the practice under the First Step Act at the federal level.
Now that Elizabeth Holmes is going to jail pregnant, more people will learn that prisons force incarcerated women to birth in shackles, limbs bound and chained to the bed. Or maybe she will be spared the treatment 80% of people who deliver babies in jail receive.
— Uju Anya (@UjuAnya) November 19, 2022
And then there is what happens after the birth of a child. Women often have their babies stripped from their arms, are not allowed to nurse them, and are quickly separated from them entirely. Those who have relatives that can raise their kids on the outside are the fortunate ones, others lose their children to the state entirely.
While the separation of parents from children will always be one of the most dire consequences of the justice system, and while it cannot be altogether avoided, there is a strong case to be made for allowing women to complete their pregnancies before turning themselves over (unless they are a clear and pressing violent threat). This would conserve taxpayer dollars, who are forced to pay for the woman’s medical care while she is incarcerated, and it would be a consistent pro-life approach to ensure babies do not suffer behind bars due to a lack of quality medical care and conditions.
Additionally, many of these women should not be incarcerated in the first place. Getting rid of asinine, immoral policies like those associated with the War on Drugs would vastly cut down on the number of women locked up in the first place. And when possible, for low-level and non-violent offenders, home arrest should be prioritized so as to keep all parents in the home as much as possible. Children suffer when a parent is removed from them no matter what, so to the greatest extent possible, we should get rid of needless laws that needlessly break apart families and seek accountability measures that prioritize the family when possible.
Elizabeth Holmes deserves the sentence she got, but many pregnant women do not. And across the board, no unborn babies deserve to suffer for their parents’ mistakes.