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The Games Sheriff Arpaio Continues to Play With Women's Health

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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July 2, 2009

It was a classic bait and switch: agree to abide by the Constitution in one respect and then create a new constitutional violation. That is what recently happened in our case involving inmates’ access to abortion care in Maricopa County, home of “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” Joseph Arapio. Five years ago, we brought suit against Arapio challenging his policy of requiring inmates to obtain a court order as a condition of being transported for abortion care. We won at every stage of the case: in the trial court, in the state court of appeals, and then the Arizona and U.S. Supreme Courts refused to hear the case, leaving our victories intact.

But apparently, America’s Toughest Sheriff also believes he’s above the law, because Arpaio continued to demand a court order from inmates seeking abortion care, in violation of the court rulings. We asked the court to hold Arpaio in contempt for blatantly violating the courts’ orders. Shortly thereafter, we began to try to find a settlement. Though Arpaio agreed to adopt a policy ensuring access to abortion without a court order, he decided to implement a new requirement: that inmates seeking abortion care must prepay up to $600 for transportation and security costs in order to be taken offsite to see a doctor.

Imagine you are poor, in jail, pregnant, and in need of an abortion — how are you going to raise $600? Who will you tell about your pregnancy to try to get the money? What if you can’t get the money? Arpaio provides transportation at no cost to inmates for all other medical care, court visits, and even visits to dying relatives or to attend a funeral. Arpaio singles out abortion care solely because of political opposition to abortion. Though it is a political game to Arpaio, these are real women with real medical needs, and this is a game he can’t win. This new policy is just as unconstitutional as the last one, and we filed our brief yesterday asking the court to prevent Arpaio from demanding upfront payment from inmates who seek abortion care.

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