Ron Bilbao, Senior Legislative Associate and Advocacy Coordinator
In 2012, Florida joined fifteen other states in establishing explicit protections in state statutes for incarcerated pregnant women. The effort was championed by two tireless and steadfast Florida legislators – Senator Arthenia Joyner and Representative Betty Reed – both from Tampa.
Moving this legislation through both chambers of the legislature, maneuvering through the resistant waters of the legislative process, battling against the tide of sometimes tough opposition from representatives of both law enforcement and corrections agencies, and negotiating with each committee chair along the way was no easy task. The resolve of these two women shines through in their success in pulling together so many others to stand behind them in passing this bill, from the Speaker of the House all the way to a grassroots coalition of advocates urging its passage.
Representative Reed told me that she wanted to pass this bill because it was “all about the babies.” She grew up the oldest of her siblings and had to care for them when her mother passed away. She remembered the young ones being helpless and needing all the care she could give. She read the stories that came into the ACLU office about the women shackled in Florida’s jails and she dedicated two years to ensuring no woman or baby would have to suffer because of this cruel and archaic practice. Both Sen. Joyner and Rep. Reed knew what was at stake in passing this bill – not just the dignity of incarcerated pregnant women, but the dignity of all pregnant women in our society. These legislators exemplify the essence of that dignity.
This year, the ACLU of Florida recognizes Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Rep. Betty Reed as the 2012 Defenders of Women’s Rights.