ACLU Asks Arizona Court to Uphold Decision Allowing Women in Prison to Obtain Abortion Care

November 28, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

PHOENIX - The American Civil Liberties Union today asked an Arizona court of appeals to uphold a lower court decision allowing women prisoners to obtain timely, safe, and legal abortions.

“Preventing women prisoners from getting abortions is dangerous and unjust,” said Brigitte Amiri, a Staff Attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, who argued the case before the court today. “Courts have repeatedly made it clear that being incarcerated doesn’t mean a woman gives up her right to have an abortion any more than it means that she gives up her right to bear a child.”

At issue is an unwritten Maricopa County Jail policy denying women prisoners access to abortion care. The policy prohibits jail officials from transporting a prisoner to obtain an abortion unless she gets a court order first. 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 to visit terminally ill family members or attend relatives’ funerals.

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.” After weeks of being denied access to abortion services, a pregnant prisoner filed the case in May 2004 on behalf of herself and future prisoners seeking abortions.

“A woman in jail has a right to make her own decision about whether or not to have a child,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Arizona prison officials cannot ignore the medical needs of prisoners simply because they do not agree with the decision to end a pregnancy.”

According to the ACLU’s brief, 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.”

The ACLU today argued the case, Doe v. Arpaio, 1 CA-CV 05-0835 in the Arizona Court of Appeals Division One. Lawyers on the case include Amiri, Talcott Camp, Jennifer McAllister-Nevins, and Charu Chandrasekhar with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

To read the ACLU’s brief visit: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/abortion/25553lgl20060512.html

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