Abortion in Prisons and Jails

California Laws Governing Abortion for Women in Prison and Jail Facilities

Right to Abortion: A pregnant person in a state or local detention facility has the same right to access abortion care as all other individuals in California.[1] Pregnant minors in state and local detention facilities also have the right to obtain an abortion.[2]

Access to Services and Providers: An incarcerated person has the right to access the services of a physician or surgeon of their choice to determine whether they are pregnant and to obtain an abortion or receive prenatal care.[3] These provisions apply to minors as well as to adults.[4]

In state prisons, incarcerated persons shall be scheduled for a pregnancy test upon arrival. [5]  Persons suspected to be pregnant or confirmed to be pregnant, shall be scheduled for an obstetrics exam within seven days of self-reporting or confirmation of pregnancy.[6] (Similar requirements do not currently exist for pregnant people in county jails.)

Use of Restraints: Pregnant incarcerated individuals should not be restrained by leg irons, waist chains, or handcuffs behind the body while traveling to and from medical appointments and while recovering from delivery.[7] Therefore, individuals shall not be restrained while being transported to and arguably from an abortion appointment.

Incarcerated individuals should not be restrained by the wrists and/or ankles during labor, delivery, and in recovery after delivery, unless a guard deems it necessary for the safety of the individual or others. Nevertheless, the medical provider can order that the restraints be removed at any time if medically necessary.[8]

Co-Pays: As of 2020, California correctional facilities do not charge co-payments to incarcerated persons with co-pays for all medical services, including abortions.[9]

Birth Control: All incarcerated individuals must have access to birth control as prescribed by their physician.[10] In state prisons, all FDA-approved birth control and emergency contraceptives, as well as non-prescription birth control, should be made available to incarcerated persons. Medical providers in state prisons must provide contraceptive counseling that is nondirective, unbiased, and noncoercive.[11] These requirements are not mandated in local and juvenile facilities.

Sterilization: “[S]terilization for the purpose of birth control . . . of an individual . . . imprisoned in a state prison or a reentry facility, community correctional facility, county jail, or any other institution in which an individual is involuntarily confined or detained under a civil or criminal statute, is prohibited.” An exception is made when the procedure is required for the immediate preservation of the individual’s life, or when the procedure is required for the necessary treatment of a medical condition.[12]

Notice: Rights of incarcerated individuals relative to pregnancy and abortion care must be posted in at least one conspicuous place to which all individuals have access in both juvenile and adult state and local facilities.[13] In state facilities, the primary care provider or obstetrician must provide information to pregnant persons on their options including continuing with pregnancy, adoption, termination and emergency contraceptives.[14]


[1] Cal. Penal Code §§ 3405, 3406, 4023.6, 4028 (2020).

[2] Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 220, 222, 1773 (2020); see also Cal. Code Regs. tit. 9, § 30605 (2020) (procedures for minors in state facilities to obtain abortions).

[3] Cal. Penal Code §§ 3405, 3406, 4023.6, 4028 (2020).

[4] Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 222, 1774 (2020); see also Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, §§ 1122, 1416 (2020).

[5] Cal. Code Regs. tit.15, § 3999.309(b) (2020) (extended by Governor’s Executive Order N-66-20 due to COVID-19).

[6] Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3999.309(d)-(e) (2020) (extended by Governor’s Executive Order N-66-20 due to COVID-19).

[7] Cal. Penal Code § 3407 (2020); Cal. Code Regs. tit.15, § 1058.5 (2020).

[8] Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, §§ 1058.5, 1122.5 (2020).

[9] Cal. Penal Code §§ 4011.2, 5007.5 (2020)

[10] Cal. Penal Code §§ 3409, 4023.5 (2020); Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 221 (2020).

[11] Cal. Penal Code § 3409 (2020).

[12] Cal. Penal Code § 3440 (a)-(b) (2020).

[13] Cal. Penal Code §§ 3405, 3406, 4023.6, 4028 (2020); Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 220, 222, 1773 (2020).

[14] Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3999.309(f)(4) (2020) (extended by Governor’s Executive Order N-66-20 due to COVID-19).