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Prison Guard Kept Complaining Of Labor Pains But Wasn’t Allowed To Leave Post

The seven-months-pregnant officer reported contraction-like pains at work, but said she wasn’t allowed to leave for hours. The anti-abortion state is fighting her lawsuit, in part by saying her fetus didn’t clearly have rights.

On a warm November night, Salia Issa had just begun her shift as an Abilene prison officer when she felt the intense pain of what she believed was a contraction.

Seven months pregnant, Issa said she quickly alerted her supervisors. She told them she needed to go to the hospital but knew prison policy wouldn’t allow her to leave her post until someone could replace her.

No one came for hours.

Issa kept calling for relief, but her supervisor repeatedly refused her, even telling her she was lying, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and prison officials.

“You just want to go home,” the supervisor allegedly told her.

Eventually, two and a half hours after the pain started, the expectant mother said she was allowed to leave the Middleton Unit. As quickly as the pain would allow her, Issa drove to a nearby hospital, where doctors rushed her into emergency surgery after being unable to find a fetal heartbeat. The baby was delivered stillborn.

If Issa had gotten to the hospital sooner, medical personnel told her, the baby would have survived, the lawsuit claims.

Nearly a year later, Issa and her husband, Fiston Rukengeza, on behalf of themselves and their unborn child, sued TDCJ and three of Issa’s supervisors — Brandy Hooper, Desmond Thompson and Alonzo Hammond. They argue the state caused the death of their child by violating state and federal laws as well as the U.S. Constitution, and they are seeking money to cover medical costs and funeral expenses and to compensate for pain and suffering.

But the prison agency and the Texas attorney general’s office, which has staked its reputation on “defending the unborn” all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, are arguing the agency shouldn’t be held responsible for the stillbirth because staff didn’t break the law. Plus, they said, it’s not clear that Issa’s fetus had rights as a person.

“Just because several statutes define an individual to include an unborn child does not mean that the Fourteenth Amendment does the same,” the Texas attorney general’s office wrote in a March footnote, referring to the constitutional right to life.

For more than two decades, in legislation passed by lawmakers and defended in court by the attorney general’s office, Texas has insisted “unborn children” be recognized as people starting at fertilization. And although it has traditionally referred to all stages of pregnancy, from fertilized egg to birth, as an unborn child, the state repeatedly referred to Issa’s stillborn baby as a fetus in legal briefings.


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