ACLU Asks Court to Protect Access to Abortion Care for Women Prisoners in Missouri

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
September 24, 2007 12:00 am

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ST. LOUIS, MO – The American Civil Liberties Union today asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to uphold a ruling allowing women prisoners in Missouri to obtain timely, safe, and legal abortion care.

“Courts throughout the country have consistently held that being in prison does not mean a woman gives up her reproductive rights,” said Diana Kasdan, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, who argued the ACLU’s position before the court today. “Like other serious medical needs, prison officials must ensure that a woman can access abortion care.”

In 2005, prison officials in Missouri went to extreme lengths to deny a woman prisoner abortion care. The ACLU intervened, asking a court to require the prison to transport the woman for an abortion. When the court ruled that the prison must transport the woman to a nearby health care facility, the state unsuccessfully appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and the woman received the care she needed.

The ACLU then had the case certified as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all incarcerated pregnant women in Missouri seeking abortions. In July 2006, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri ruled 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.

“Missouri has long provided women prisoners with all other pregnancy-related health care,” said Brenda Jones, Executive Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “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.”

In a similar ACLU case, Doe v. Arpaio, Arizona court of appeals held earlier this year that women in a county jail could not be denied timely and safe access to abortion care. At issue was an unwritten policy prohibiting jail officials from transporting a woman to obtain an abortion unless she gets a court order first. The county appealed the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court; a decision is expected later this year.

Today’s case is Roe v. Crawford, et al., No. 06-3108. Lawyers on the case include Kasdan and Talcott Camp of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Anthony Rothert of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, and Thomas M. Blumenthal and James G. Felakos, cooperating counsel for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

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