Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother Juana Villegas vindicated: man-made labor pain at hands of Sheriff's office was unconstitutional, says federal court

Excerpt from April 2011 opinion of federal court finding in favor of Juana Villegas

One day, a child who is now only two years old will find out that his mother was given unnecessary and illegal additional pain, on top of her biological pain of childbirth.

Chained to her bed - against commonly recognized standards and in violation of the U.S. Constitution - Juana Villegas was shackled during labor and denied a breast pump while she was in the custody and care of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office. As of April 27, 2011, the illegality and unconstitutionality of her treatment is no longer an allegation but is a formal, legal finding by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

Attorney Elliott Ozment, along with Phil Cramer and his team at Sherrard & Roe, represented Ms. Villegas, a resident of Nashville and native of Mexico. Villegas does not, and did not at the time, have a visa to be in the U.S.  Her immigration status was the focus of the DCSO's unsuccessful defense of its actions.

According to the 42-page opinion (attached), restraining a woman in labor is recognized in U.S. law as unacceptable unless absolutely necessary to prevent escape, and deference is generally given to law enforcement. Judge William Haynes of the Middle District, who issued the opinion, cited the U.S. Supreme Court and lower opinions, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and human rights standards and U.S. treaty obligations in his findings of Due Process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Unsupported by the law were the arguments of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office that the mother's lack of authorization to be in the U.S. automatically meant that she was able and likely to jump out of the ambulance, the bed, or the delivery room and not be capably restrained by sheriff's office personnel.

Two passages in the Court's opinion had an emotional impact on me:
"Ms. Villegas experienced a profound stressor, the threat of death to her unborn child." -Dr. Jill DeBona, p. 13 (The reason shackling is universally recognized as wrong is that it threatens the health of the mother and the unborn child.)

Villegas "was not allowed to contact her husband or other family, by telephone or otherwise throughout her stay at the hospital." -p.16 (Villegas went into labor, delivered her child, and held the child in her arms without being allowed to contact her family at any time, and no family at her side during labor and delivery, even though her husband and other family members were in Nashville. That, however, was not found to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution.)
The DSCO no longer shackles mothers during labor.

Happy Mother's Day.

For more information about the Juana Villegas case, including the suspect circumstances of her original arrest, see these other stories, as well as the video below.

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