ACLU Applauds Arizona Supreme Court's Refusal to Review Prison Abortion Policy

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
September 26, 2007 12:00 am

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Says Women Prisoners in Arizona Will be Able to Access Timely, Safe, and Legal Abortion Care

PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded the Arizona Supreme Court’s refusal to review a lower court decision allowing prisoners to access timely, safe, and legal abortions. The court’s action, announced late yesterday, ensures that women prisoners in Arizona will be able to obtain the medical care they need.

“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 with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This was a case of policy gone awry. We are please that at every step of the way the courts have recognized the need to protect women’s reproductive health.”

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 for an abortion unless she first obtained a court order. 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 visits with terminally ill family members or attendance at relatives’ funerals.

“Prison officials must attend to all serious medical needs, including abortion care, regardless of whether or not they agree with the decision to end a pregnancy,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Women prisoners should not be subjected to the ideological whims of prison officials.”

After weeks of being denied access to abortion care, 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.” In January 2007, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld that decision.

On Monday, the ACLU asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to uphold a lower court ruling in a similar case, Roe v. Crawford. In 2005, prison officials in Missouri went to extreme lengths to deny a woman prisoner access to abortion care. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri ruled in July 2006 that women prisoners do not lose their constitutional right to abortion care, and as with all other serious medical needs, prison officials must transport prisoners offsite for treatment if necessary. A decision is expected in that case later this year.

According to the ACLU’s brief in the Arizona challenge, 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, CV-07-0104-PR. Lawyers on the case include Amiri and Talcott Camp with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

To read the ACLU’s brief visit:

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