Civil Liberties Groups Ask Texas Court To Protect The Rights of Pregnant Women

July 29, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

AUSTIN, TX – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a case involving the unfair incarceration of a pregnant woman who violated her probation. The ACLU asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to affirm a lower court ruling that probation officers treated the woman, Amber Lovill, differently from others who violated probation but were not pregnant.

"Our criminal justice system cannot treat pregnant women more harshly than other people convicted of similar crimes simply because they are pregnant," said Diana Kasdan, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.  "The lower court correctly concluded that the state's extreme treatment of Ms. Lovill constituted sex discrimination and was based on stereotypes of pregnant women."

In 2005, Ms. Lovill pled guilty to the crime of felony forgery and received a sentence of two years in a state jail, which the court suspended pending completion of three years in community supervision.  In July 2007, during a routine report to her probation officer, Ms. Lovill took a required drug test and also informed the officer that she was pregnant.  After she tested positive for drug use, the state moved to revoke her probation and incarcerated her for the duration of her pregnancy.  According to the ACLU brief, at the revocation hearing, officers repeatedly admitted that if Ms. Lovill were not pregnant, less restrictive alternatives would have been the typical response to a positive drug screen.

"Not only was Ms. Lovill discriminated against because she was pregnant, but the state placed her in a facility that the government had already found unsanitary and unsafe, especially for pregnant women," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas.  "If the state had wanted to address Ms. Lovill's drug use, it could have enrolled her in a program that specializes in treating pregnant women.  It deliberately chose a punitive and less effective alternative."

"Under the Texas Equal Rights Amendment, the state cannot justify subjecting pregnant women to more severe punishment and treating them differently from others based on gender stereotypes," said Ariela Migdal, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "But that is precisely what the state did in this case and that is impermissible."

The ACLU's brief was filed on behalf of themselves and Legal Momentum, the National Partnership for Women & Families, the National Women's Law Center, and the Southwest Women's Law Center.

Today's case is Texas v. Lovill  No. PD-0401-09.  Lawyers on the ACLU's friend-of-the-court brief include Kasdan and Talcott Camp of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Migdal, Emily M. Martin, and Lenora M. Lapidus of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, and Graybill and Fleming Terrell of the ACLU of Texas.

The ACLU's friend-of-the-court brief can be found at: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/gen/40480lgl20090728.html

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