Pregnant in Prison; Reproductive Rights of the Incarcerated


In the search to find content on media representations of Daya’s experience of being pregnant and giving birth in prison, I came across a slight problem that made it difficult to analyze the popular media coverage on the representation of reproductive rights in the prison industrial complex (let’s call that a PIC).

These were the only search results that came out of searching “OITNB Reproductive Rights”:

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The search results immediately focused on the life of the baby post-birth and the “fate” that this baby will meet. Although these ideas are definitely important and worth talking about, there is a lack of coverage of Daya’s experience of actually carrying a baby and everything that comes with it. Instead, the first three popular media articles simply impose their opinions onto how she should navigate motherhood after giving birth and the potential for OITNB to push boundaries to “take on the foster care system” (Denninger). Although exploring the foster care system through such a public platform would be valuable, the media seems to be significantly less concerned with tackling the issue of access to reproductive rights in prison. Angela Davis attributes this lack of regard to the idea that being incarcerated “entails the loss of status as a rights-bearing citizen” (38). This is an essential idea to consider when thinking through the public’s perception of Daya.

In addition, popular media coverage imposes judgments and ideas about respectable motherhood onto her, even though they fail to acknowledge her rights as a mother pre-birth. In Season 4, episode 13, Daya picks up a gun in an act of resistance against the abuse the prison guards inflict onto the incarcerated. In a review of this episode, one Bustle writer claims that “Daya would do best to put that piece down and walk away, she’ll be separated from her baby by even more years” (Thomas). In addition to this, the authors are assuming that to be a respectable woman post-birth, one has to be actively involved in a child’s life – further perpetuating the idea that the only option for incarcerated women is to give birth.

“This storyline speaks to the lack of access (despite people who are incarcerated still have the constitutional right to have an abortion) in the prison system, as well as the childbirth experience Daya is soon to encounter” (Hopkins). Consider Angela Davis here; she argues that “since women were largely denied public status as rights-bearing individuals, they could not be easily punished by the deprivation of such rights through imprisonment” (45). What she’s essentially saying here is that women have historically been stripped of their rights and in the past, there was not much more that could be taking away through incarceration. Bring this idea to a world where women have greater access to reproductive health options. In order to solidify the notion that these women as losing their rights to be citizens, their access to rights (and consequently options) is taken away.

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So why is nobody talking about this? What are they talking about instead?

Rather than reflecting on the reasons behind this course of action following the loss of her baby, the media coverage chooses to focus on the implications this will have for her relationship with her child. It is important to note that before this incident “she [is] visibly depressed for much of the season” (Hopkins). This is perhaps a symptom of postpartum depression, which would only be heightened by the fact that, due to her incarceration within the PIC, her child is taken away from her. The work of Hopkins is the only piece of popular media (a blog) to touch on her experience of pregnancy in prison and the implications of being separated from her child at birth. It’s important to note that “three percent of women in federal prisons are pregnant” (The Sentencing Project), and thus their reality will likely mirror that of Daya’s.

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The lack of dialogue on reproductive rights in prison, as portrayed by Orange is the New Black is something that needs to be talked about. Although the plotline of Daya and her child sparks necessary conversation about a mother’s ability to be involved in their child’s life, there is a lack of regard for the experience of a mother in prison. There is incredible importance and value in discussing the ways in which Daya’s experience becomes ignored by popular media and the plotline of the child becomes highly publicized perpetuates the idea of an incarcerated person as losing their status as a citizen (Davis).

I will leave you with this powerful passage on Hopkin’s blog speaking to the importance of actually having “real discussions about these issues” rather than mentioning them in passing.

So, why does this all matter? You’re right, it’s just a show after all. But to have, in a popular binge-watched show, a nuanced and complex depiction of the decision to have a child or not; access to abortion services in prisons; the treatment of pregnant people while they are incarcerated; and the childbirth experience in prisons is pretty damn impressive. And if it can open up and allow for real discussions about these issues, even better”

Works Cited

Davis, A. Y. (2007). Are Prisons Obsolete? Longueuil, Québec: Point Par Point.

Denninger, L. (2017). Who Has Daya’s Baby On ‘Orange Is The New Black’? Her Fate Is Unknown. Bustle. <;

Hopkins, M. (2013). You Can Say It, Abortion: Reproductive Justice in Orange Is the New Black. Soapbox Inc. Retrieved December 08, 2017, <;

Thomas, L. (2015). What Happens to Daya’s Baby on ‘Orange Is The New Black’? Expect This Story To Continue In Season 4. Bustle. <;









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