Health Education in Women's Correctional Institutions

Health Education in Women’s Correctional InstitutionsWoman in jail

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference (“Conference”) testified in opposition "An Act Relative to Health Education in Women’s Correctional Institutions".

The bill’s title could lead one to believe that the bill’s purpose is to improve health education for incarcerated women. However, the bill codifies a requirement to distribute contraception materials to female prisoners.

The bill requires the health services unit in each correctional institution where women are incarcerated to have available to all women written information on women’s health, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections; provides female prisoners of child bearing age contraception counseling; and not less than three months prior to her release, begins the contraceptive regimen of her choice. Upon her release, the woman would be given a twelve month prescription for contraceptives to refill her medication and referrals for prescription refills and follow up care.

Numerous studies examining sexual behavior and STD transmission have demonstrated risk compensation behavior, which is a greater willingness to engage in potentially risky behavior when one believes risk has been reduced through technology.[1] Researchers have described how the early aggressive promotion of condoms ruined efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS in Botswana, while resistance to condom promotion in Uganda encouraged behavior changes that dramatically reversed the epidemic in that country. [2] Contraceptive use also has numerous side-effects and risks of serious complications. The side-effects of the pill include headaches, depression, decreased libido and weight gain.[3] Documented serious complications include heart attacks,[4] cervical cancer[5] and blood clots.[6] Additionally, more than half (58%) of all abortion patients were using contraception during the month when they became pregnant.[7]

Efforts to improve health care and education for women are applaudable; however, focusing on contraception need not be the focal point. Educating women on Natural Family Planning (NFP) and abstinence would be better for a women’s physical, emotional and spiritual health. A woman’s overall health would be better served by including in any health education program information relative to NFP and abstinence. The reliance on contraceptives has shown to increase one’s temptation to abort if pregnancy occurs. Research released in September 2011 clearly indicated that abortion significantly increases mental health problems for women.[8]  Providing incarcerated women with up-to-date resources that teach NFP and abstinence enhances health. Women who receive NFP education no longer are required to rely on chemicals to space their children appropriately. Additionally, this organic, affordable method of family planning provides women with the opportunity to better understand and appreciate the unique aspects of their body.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference has urged the Committee on Judiciary to report unfavorably on this legislation (pdf) recommending that the bill ought not to pass. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference is the public policy office of the Roman Catholic Bishops in the Commonwealth, representing the Archdiocese of Boston and the Dioceses of Fall River, Springfield, and Worcester.

Voice your Opinion:

  • Call, email, write or visit your State Representative and State Senator.
  • To determine who your elected officials are visit or call at 617-722-2000
  • Share your lobbying success with the Massachusetts Catholic Conference by calling 617-367-6060.


[1] J. Richens et al., “Condoms and Seat Belts: the Parallels and the Lessons,” The Lancet 355 (2000): 400-403; M. Cassell et al., “Risk compensation: the Achilles’ heel of innovations in HIV prevention?”, British Medical Journal 332 (206): 605-607.

[2] T Allen and S Heald, HIV/AIDS Policy in Africa: What has worked in Uganda and what has failed in Botswana? Journal of International Development 2004; 16:1141-1154.

[3] B Tanis, et al., “Oral Contraceptives and the Risk of Myocardial Infarction,” 345 New England Journal of Medicine 1787 (December 20, 2001).

[4] R Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology at 418 (1998).

[5] J Kemmeren, et al., “Third Generation Oral Contraceptives and Risk of Venous Thrombosis: Meta-analysis,” 323 British Medical Journal 131 (July 21, 2001).

[6] Jauser Betwirj Daily Reproductive Health Report, “British Lawsuit Filed Against Makers of ‘Third-Generation’ Birth Control Pills,” October 2, 2001.

[7] S Henshaw & K Kost, “Abortion Patients in 1994-1995: Characteristics and Contraceptive Use,” 28 Family Planning Perspectives 140, 144-145 (July/August 1996).

[8] P. Coleman, “Abortion and Mental Health: Quantitative Synthesis and Analysis of Research Published 1995-2009,” 199:180-186, The British Journal of Psychiatry, September 2011.