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PHOENIX - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion yesterday to hold Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio in contempt for disobeying a court order that would allow women prisoners in Maricopa County to obtain timely, safe, and legal abortions. In addition, today's motion asks the court to provide additional safeguards for women prisoners seeking abortion care.
"Arizona courts have clearly ruled that prison officials cannot stand in the way of the medical needs of women prisoners," said Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "It's regrettable that we need to take extra steps to ensure that Sheriff Arpaio follows the law."
At issue in the original case was an unwritten Maricopa County Jail policy prohibiting jail officials from transporting a prisoner to obtain an abortion unless she first got a court order. In August 2005, the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County, struck down the unwritten policy, holding that it violated women's reproductive rights and served "no legitimate penological purpose." The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld that decision; both the Arizona and the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
In May of 2008, prison officials defied the courts by continuing to enforce the unwritten policy when a woman prisoner, "Mary Roe," requested transportation for an abortion. When Roe's lawyer spoke with Sheriff Arpaio's Deputy Chief, John McIntyre, who had been involved in the original case and knew the court's decision, he failed to tell her that inmates must be transported for abortion care without a court order. It took the ACLU's intervention to ensure that prison officials followed the law; still, their initial non-compliance delayed Roe's abortion by four weeks.
"The courts have already 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. "Now, given the disregard of the court ruling by Sheriff Arpaio and his staff, it appears that we need to spell out the law more clearly to protect future women detainees."
The motion asks the court to require the jail to post signs in both English and Spanish informing prisoners of their right to be transported. In addition, all employees would be required to sign a statement acknowledging that they have been informed of the law.
Today's case is Doe v. Arpaio, CV2004-009286. Lawyers on the case include Amiri and Talcott Camp with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, and Dan Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona.
To read the ACLU's motion, visit: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/abortion/36263lgl20080806.html