Written by Debby Preiser
Beth Isaacs, Founder and President of Illinois Birth Justice, was recognized for Outstanding Commitment in Community Service, as one of eight "Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business" by Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs at a Women's History Month Celebration on March 9.
In her acceptance remarks, Beth recalled how she was inspired to found Illinois Birth Justice after an old friend asked Beth to advocate for her daughter, who was pregnant and incarcerated and facing denial of the chance to provide milk for her newborn.
Beth noted that the majority of young women in Illinois jails and prisons are there for non-violent charges and have no family members or any support present when they give birth. They often receive very limited prenatal support and are separated from their babies shortly after the birth.
Although Beth had worked in maternal-infant health for over 30 years as a nurse in labor & delivery, a childbirth educator, a lactation consultant, and a trainer of community-based doulas who supported low-income pregnant and parenting teens, she had never considered the needs of incarcerated pregnant women and new mothers. This population of women had been previously invisible to Beth, and she realized this was likely true of most others as well.
Beth responded to her friend’s request for help and then could not stop thinking about the issues. That began an unexpected journey that led her to establish IBJ in 2015. Once she learned that other states have prison birth projects, Beth decided that she wanted to create a prison birth project in Illinois, with doula care as the primary intervention. Since that time, Beth, along with a committed team of advisors, board members and supporters, have been working to build a long-lasting foundation for Illinois Birth Justice.
Honorable Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke gave the keynote address for the ceremony at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. Burke recalled a personal story of a time she experienced discrimination and was barred from an exclusive women's club because her husband was a "politician." Justice Burke also remembered other trailblazing women in state history including Dawn Clark Netch and Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Among the other seven women honored were Anne Ladky, Executive Director of Women Employed, and Bridget Gainer, Cook County Board Commission, 10th District. ABC 7 News Reporter Evelyn Holmes, like Beth a graduate of Northwestern University, served as the Master of Ceremonies.