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Let's Do Some Math, Sheriff Joe

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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October 21, 2009

(Also posted on Daily Kos.)

Yesterday, I argued in Maricopa County Superior Court about whether Sheriff Joe Arpaio, “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” can block inmates’ access to abortion. The specific issue is whether the sheriff can demand that inmates who seek abortion care prepay $300 a day in transportation and security costs. If an inmate can’t come up with the money, she will be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. Of course, Sheriff Arpaio doesn’t require inmates seeking other medical care to prepay for transport and security costs. We argued it is unconstitutional to make access to the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy conditional on the ability to pay hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, the judge agreed.

Ruling immediately after the arguments, the court held that the defendants are prohibited from demanding prepayment for transport and security costs. The sheriff has an uphill battle given that just a couple of years ago the Arizona Court of Appeals held that his policy of demanding a court order from inmates seeking abortion was unconstitutional. As the judge yesterday recognized, the issue of prepayment for transport costs is only a “slight extension” of the court order issue, and demanding prepayment is possibly more onerous than requiring a court order.

But the most telling part of yesterday’s argument came when the judge asked us to do some math. He asked both parties how many hours since June each of us worked on the case – we agreed it was at least 40 hours each. He then assumed an hourly rate of $250 an hour and asked us to calculate the total. The answer? A lot of taxpayer money is being spent on a policy that may cost the Sheriff a few hundred dollars a year given how few women request abortion access.

Then the judge asked the question that sums it all up – he asked the sheriff’s attorney to explain “the real reason” behind the policy. Clearly, it can’t be that the sheriff is really worried about $300 a year.

The sheriff’s attorney didn’t really respond. I suppose it was a bit of a rhetorical question. Sheriff Arpaio has repeatedly acted on his animosity to abortion by denying inmates their constitutional rights. All told, he will spend thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting over $300 a year simply because he wants to impose his moral beliefs on others. The courts have repeatedly stopped these unconstitutional tactics. And we will be prepared to deal with whatever Sheriff Joe does next.

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