High Court Refuses to Review Arizona Prison’s Abortion Policy

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
March 24, 2008 12:00 am

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Lower Court’s Ruling Upholding Women’s Right to Reproductive Freedom Will Stand

Washington, DC – The United States Supreme Court announced today that it would not review a lower court decision preventing prison officials in Maricopa County, Arizona, from interfering with women prisoners’ access to timely, safe, and legal abortion care.

“As we have shown throughout this case, a pregnant woman in prison does not lose her right to decide to have an abortion any more than she gives up her right to have a child,” said Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “It is not up to prison officials to decide whether a woman prisoner should carry a pregnancy to term or not.”

At issue in the case was an unwritten Maricopa County Jail policy preventing women in prison from obtaining 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.

“Today’s announcement puts an end to Maricopa County prison officials’ blatant disregard of the law and failure to ensure that prisoners get the health care they need,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “It’s the end of the road for Sheriff Arpaio’s campaign against reproductive freedom.”

After weeks of being denied access to abortion care, a pregnant prisoner, represented by the ACLU, sued 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, and in September of last year, the Arizona Supreme Court refused to review the case.

ACLU briefs note that 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.”

In a similar case brought by the ACLU, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit earlier this year upheld a lower court ruling allowing women prisoners in Missouri to obtain timely, safe, and legal abortion care.

Today’s case is Arpaio v. Doe, 07-839. Lawyers on the case include Amiri, Talcott Camp, Louise Melling, and Steven R. Shapiro of the ACLU and Daniel Pochoda of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

To read the ACLU’s brief visit:

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