Back to News & Commentary

We'll be Watching You, Sheriff Arpaio

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Share This Page
March 1, 2010

After six years of protracted litigation, women in Maricopa County Jail — you know, the one run by the infamous Sherriff Joe Arpaio — have finally (hopefully) secured their constitutional right to obtain an abortion. The case began in 2004 when a woman, referred to under the pseudonym Jane Doe, was in jail and sought an abortion. Jail officials denied her request, and told her that she had to go to court and have a judge order the jail to transport her for an abortion. She tried this route, but the court denied her request. That’s when the ACLU filed a legal challenge on her behalf, both to ensure that she receive a safe, timely abortion and to strike down Arpaio’s unconstitutional policy. We won. Arpaio appealed. And we won again. Arpaio appealed again, to the Arizona Supreme Court, which refused to review the decision. And Arpaio appealed again, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.

At that point, we thought the constitutional right to obtain an abortion for women in Maricopa County Jail was secure. But apparently the rule of law doesn’t mean much to Arpaio, “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” Shortly after he exhausted all appeals, he blatantly defied the court’s ruling and refused to voluntarily transport another woman in his custody, referred to as Mary Roe, for an abortion. We intervened and ensured that Ms. Roe was able to obtain her abortion; we also filed a motion to hold Arpaio in contempt of court.

But Arpaio wasn’t done playing games with women’s constitutional rights. In the middle of negotiations on our contempt motion, he decided to impose a new obstacle on women seeking abortion care: in order to be transported, he demanded that women pay $300 a day up front in transportation and security costs. Sarah Poe, another inmate, could not afford to prepay these costs, and would have been forced to have a baby if we did not intervene. We helped secure her abortion, and we challenged the prepayment policy. In October last year, we won, again.

Last week we learned that Arpaio is not going to appeal this latest ruling. We hope that this is the end to a long chapter, and we particularly hope that women in Arpaio’s jail do not have to go through what Ms. Doe, Ms. Roe, and Ms. Poe went through: delay in obtaining care, which may have threatened their health, not to mention the anguish of thinking they may have been forced to remain pregnant and give birth against their will. As a result of their fight, Arpaio must now transport women in his facility who request an abortion, and he must transport them even if they can’t afford to pay the transport costs upfront. We’ve said “hopefully” this is the end because history has shown that Arpaio doesn’t seem to grasp the mandates of the constitution or abide by court orders. If Arpaio tries any new tricks, we stand ready to continue the fight.

(Cross-posted to Feministing and RH Reality Check.)

Learn More About the Issues on This Page