In a significant move to safeguard the rights and well-being of pregnant women in custody, Florida Senator Shevrin D. Jones, a Democrat from Miami Gardens, has filed “Ava’s Law,” officially known as Senate Bill 100. It aims to address the unique needs of pregnant women within the criminal justice system and ensure their rights are respected throughout the legal process.
Tragedy struck when Ava Thompson lost her life after her mother, Erica Thompson, was denied adequate care while in custody at Alachua County Jail in Gainesville. Arrested on Aug. 9, 2021, while six months pregnant, Thompson faced charges of felony violation of probation and failure to appear on a traffic charge. Despite notifying a nurse of contractions, she received no medical assistance and gave birth alone in her jail cell that evening.
Ava, born prematurely, was transported to the hospital where doctors experienced difficulty in saving her due to her small size. Thompson, devastated, held Ava until she passed away, believing that more could have been done by the medical staff.
Under Ava’s Law, every female arrested in Florida who is not released on bond within 72 hours after arrest has the right to request a pregnancy test. This mandatory testing is to be administered within a specified timeframe, emphasizing the state’s commitment to the health and safety of pregnant individuals in custody.
T.Jermaine Adams, a pre-law major at Florida A&M University, said he was opposed to SB 100, suggesting that there is a higher concern for women that are incarcerated.
“It seems to minimize the overarching systemic issue,” Adams said. “The pressing issue here is not pregnant women that are arrested or incarcerated, rather the humanity that is stripped from the person once deemed as a criminal.”
One notable provision of Ava’s Law allows a sentencing court to stay the beginning of the period of incarceration for pregnant women convicted of any offense. This provision recognizes the unique circumstances surrounding pregnancy and provides flexibility in sentencing to ensure the well-being of both the mother and the unborn child.
Additionally, judges are granted the authority to impose specified sanctions for any subsequent criminal convictions or violations of the terms and conditions ordered by the court. This ensures accountability while maintaining a balance that considers the challenges faced by pregnant individuals within the criminal justice system.
Second Lieutenant Tayler Witherspoon, with the military police, said, “The process is much harder while they are incarcerated, so I think this will potentially prevent other issues.”
Witherspoon suggested that, “Giving women the right to take a pregnancy test within the first 72 hours to confirm or detect a pregnancy is more beneficial because it gives early detection to start preparing their body for childbirth, as well as the officers or other officials.”
The enactment of Ava’s Law would reflect a bipartisan effort to address the specific needs of pregnant women in custody, emphasizing the importance of compassion and understanding within the legal system. Supporters of the law commend Florida for taking this crucial step towards creating a more equitable and humane criminal justice system for all.
Ava’s Law was introduced to the Senate on Jan. 9, the first day of the annual legislative session. It is scheduled to be heard by the Criminal Justice Committee, but a date has yet to be assigned.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have emphasized the importance of protecting the health and rights of pregnant individuals, showcasing a collaborative effort to address a crucial aspect of criminal justice reform incentives such as:
- Mandatory pregnancy test: Every female arrested and not released on bond within 72 hours after arrest has the right to request and be administered a pregnancy test within a specified timeframe.
- Notification of rights: Each municipal detention facility or county detention facility is required to notify each arrested female upon booking of her right to request a pregnancy test.
- Sentencing flexibility: Authorizes a sentencing court to stay the beginning of the period of incarceration for up to a certain amount of time for a pregnant woman convicted of any offense.
- Judicial sanctions: Authorizes a judge to impose specified sanctions for another criminal conviction or a violation of the terms and conditions ordered by the judge.
If enacted, Ava’s Law could set a precedent for other states to consider similar measures, marking a positive stride towards ensuring the well-being of pregnant individuals in custody nationwide.
For more information and updates on SB 100, Ava’s Law, visit The Florida Senate page.