Federal Court Protects Access to Abortion Care for Women Prisoners in Missouri

January 22, 2008 12:00 am

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ST. LOUIS, MO – In a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, a federal appeals court in Missouri today upheld a ruling allowing women prisoners in Missouri to obtain timely, safe, and legal abortion care. Today’s announcement comes on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

“Today’s decision is consistent with rulings from across the country that women prisoners do not lose their reproductive rights once they are incarcerated,” said Diana Kasdan, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Prison officials must ensure that women have access to the full spectrum of pregnancy-related care, including abortion.”

In 2005, prison officials in Missouri went to extreme lengths to deny a woman prisoner abortion care. The ACLU asked a court to require the prison to transport the woman for an abortion as they would for all other serious medical needs. When the court ruled that the prison must transport the woman to a nearby health care facility, the state unsuccessfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene; 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. Today’s decision affirms that ruling.

“Today’s opinion made clear that prison officials cannot prevent a woman from obtaining abortion care,” said Brenda Jones, Executive Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “We are pleased that the court recognized that whether or not to have a child is one of the most important decisions a person can make and survives incarceration.”

In a similar ACLU case, Doe v. Arpaio, an Arizona court of appeals held last year that women in a county jail could not be denied timely and safe access to abortion care. The county has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Today’s decision was issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit in the case of 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 cooperating counsel for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

See the ACLU’s online video examining Roe v. Wade’s importance for civil liberties, 35 Years Later: www.aclu.org.

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