FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PHOENIX - The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded a decision by an Arizona court of appeals allowing women prisoners to obtain timely, safe, and legal abortions.
“We applaud the court for recognizing what other courts have said all along: A woman does not give up her right to have an abortion any more than she gives up her right to have a child just because she is incarcerated,” said Brigitte Amiri, a Staff Attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Prison officials can no longer stand in the way of the medical needs of women in prison.”
At issue was an unwritten Maricopa County Jail policy denying women in prison access to abortion care. The policy prohibited jail officials from transporting a prisoner to obtain an abortion unless she gets a court order first. The jail transports prisoners without a court order for all other necessary medical care, including prenatal care and childbirth. The jail also regularly transports prisoners for various non-medical reasons, including to visit terminally ill family members or attend relatives’ funerals.
After weeks of being denied access to abortion services, a pregnant prisoner filed the case in May 2004 on behalf of herself and future prisoners seeking abortions. In August 2005, the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County, struck down the jail’s policy, holding that it violates women’s reproductive rights and serves “no legitimate penological purpose.” Today’s ruling upheld that decision.
“The court of appeals has confirmed our position that Arizona prison officials cannot ignore the medical needs of prisoners simply because they do not agree with the decision to end a pregnancy,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “A woman in jail has a right to make her own decision about whether to have a child.”
According to the ACLU’s brief, Joe Arpaio, the sheriff in charge of Maricopa County Jail, has “maintained the Policy throughout his tenure, consistent with his well-publicized stance against abortion and his ‘America’s toughest sheriff’ persona.” Arpaio himself has admitted that under this policy, “The gal may have the baby by the time it gets through the court system.”
Today’s case is Doe v. Arpaio, 1 CA-CV 05-0835. Lawyers on the case include Amiri, Talcott Camp, Jennifer McAllister-Nevins, and Charu Chandrasekhar with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
To read the ACLU’s brief visit: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/abortion/25553lgl20060512.html