Court Rules that Sheriff Joe Arpaio Can No Longer Block Prisoners' Access To Abortion Care

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
October 20, 2009 12:00 am

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PHOENIX – In a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, an Arizona court found today that Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio can no longer require inmates seeking abortion care to prepay their transportation and security costs before they can obtain an abortion.

Earlier this year, as part of a partial settlement in an ACLU lawsuit involving the right of women prisoners to obtain timely, safe and legal abortions, Arpaio agreed to follow a 2005 court order prohibiting Maricopa County correctional facilities from requiring inmates to obtain a court order before an abortion. However, in the course of settlement negotiations, Arpaio decided inmates must prepay transportation and security costs associated with obtaining the procedure. In his ruling today, Judge Robert H. Oberbilling of the Superior Court of Arizona indicated that requiring inmates to prepay security and transportation costs could be more onerous than the court order Sheriff Arpaio previously required.

“We are so pleased that Sheriff Arpaio can no longer pull a bait and switch by requiring women prisoners to pay transportation and security costs before obtaining an abortion,” said Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project who argued the case today before the court. “Arpaio’s new prepayment requirement was yet another way for him to do an end run around the law and to interfere with a woman’s private decision about whether to end a pregnancy.”

In May 2004, on behalf of a woman inmate seeking an abortion, the ACLU challenged an unwritten Maricopa County Jail policy that required inmates to obtain a court order before officials would transport for abortion care. The Maricopa County Superior Court struck down the unwritten policy in August 2005, holding that it violated women’s reproductive rights and served “no legitimate penological purpose.” The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld that decision; both the Arizona and the United States Supreme Courts refused to hear the case.

Sheriff Arpaio defied these rulings and continued to require women to obtain a court order before an abortion. As a result, in August 2008, the ACLU asked the court to hold Arpaio in contempt. In the course of settlement negotiations in that case, Arpaio shifted tactics and began insisting that inmates who seek abortions must pay upfront for transportation and security costs. Inmates requiring transportation for other medical care are not charged for transport either before or after receiving services.

“Sheriff Arpaio has reached the end of the line here. The courts have already confirmed that Arizona prison officials can not put up roadblocks to abortion care simply because they do not agree with the decision to end a pregnancy,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “It is time for Sheriff Arpaio to stop wasting taxpayer dollars to impose his own morality on women in his jails and to start upholding the law. Game over.”

The case is Doe v. Arpaio, CV2004-009286. Lawyers on the case include Amiri and Talcott Camp with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, and Dan Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona.

To read the brief: /reproductiverights/abortion/40106lgl20090701.html

To read July’s partial settlement: /reproductiverights/abortion/40091lgl20090619.html

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