by Maria Nakae
Today, as we revel in the passage of one and lament the veto of the other, we give one enthusiastic thumb up and one disbelieving thumb down to Governor Schwarzenegger.
Farm workers, their families and their communities won a major victory with the passage of AB 1963, the Pesticide Poisoning Prevention Bill. The bill protects farm workers from overexposure to pesticides, which can damage the nervous system and cause reproductive harm, by establishing standards for their handling and use. Farm worker communities, made up of mostly immigrants and people of color, have long suffered the terrible health impacts of workers being immersed in toxic chemicals on a daily basis and carrying them home to their children and other family members through their pesticide-drenched clothes. Not surprisingly, it has been women leaders and residents who have led the fight for environmental justice and community health, recognizing the threat of heavy and prolonged exposure to pesticides for their families and communities, including respiratory problems, cancer, and miscarriage. Indeed, the protection of children, babies and women – including those who are pregnant – from toxins that affect them in particular is one of the most significant reproductive justice impacts of this bill.
While pregnant farm workers will finally be offered a little bit of relief, pregnant women who are incarcerated have been left out in the cold as a result of the Governor’s veto of AB 1900. The bill would have prevented the shackling of pregnant women in jails and prisons, a dehumanizing practice widely condemned by medical professionals for leading to poor birth outcomes and compromising the mother’s physical, mental and emotional health. It’s outrageous and unbelievable to think that, given the power to offer a sliver of respect to women who experience the humiliation and degradation of being shackled while in labor and giving birth, not to mention give babies and families a strong and healthy start, the Governor let this opportunity pass. Apparently the strong support of the bill by medical, women’s, civil rights and human rights groups meant nothing to him. The fact that the bill passed the State Legislature without a single “No” vote didn’t faze him. Governor Schwarzenegger took it upon himself to make a poorly informed decision that affects the lives of the 11,000 women in California’s prisons and their families.
So what’s next? As always, we keep on fighting. Read more about the veto here and connect with groups like Center for Young Women's Development, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Rebecca Project for Human Rights who continue the struggle for dignity and justice for women and babies in California’s prisons to ensure families a better start.