Martha Paynter

Martha Paynter

The perinatal health experiences of criminalized and incarcerated women in Canada

Field of Study: Nursing

Martha's research examines the perinatal health experiences of criminalized and incarcerated women in Canada using a theoretical framework of reproductive justice and intersectionality. Her research builds from community activism in prison abolition and advocacy for reproductive health. She coordinates a non-profit organization, Women’s Wellness Within, that provides support to women in pregnancy and postpartum, leads political advocacy to end the imprisonment of women, and educates clinicians and the public about the process of criminalization and its connections to trauma, violence and illness. She is inspired by the women who endure incarceration, who fight to parent, who persist.

Nova Scotia has one large central jail for women and the only federal prison for women in Atlantic Canada, with an active residential Mother-Child program. There are strong community organizations working for criminalized women in this province. Halifax is home to the IWK Health Centre, the tertiary maternity care centre for the region and the region’s first Baby-Friendly Initiative-designated hospital. 

Martha's research is already raising questions about why women in pregnancy and postpartum are incarcerated, how the conditions of confinement impact their perinatal health, and the responsibilities of nurses to advocate for incarcerated patients. She hopes her research will continue to challenge carceral norms and to build support for upstream approaches to addressing poverty, violence, substance use disorder and mental illness. 

I am proud we created Women’s Wellness Within, but I am super proud of the resilience of Women’s Wellness Within’s clients. They work so hard, against the odds, to breastfeed, maintain and restore custody of their children, parent, study, work. I am very transparent in my values. I believe in equity, compassion, and collective responsibility for health and wellbeing.

For being named a laureate, I am so grateful for the support and the platform to generate knowledge about reproductive justice.