Arizona County Official Challenged on Denying Abortions for Inmates

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 15, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Arizona County Official Challenged on Denying Abortions for Inmates

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 15, 2004

Phoenix, AZ ( — An Arizona sheriff says pregnant inmates at the prison he operates should not be transported by prison officials for abortions. The decision is drawing a challenge from the ACLU and other abortion advocates.

Maricopa County Joe Arpaio, who is pro-life, says he only allows inmates to be transported for trips that are medically necessary and he says abortion is an elective procedure.

He doesn’t want to use taxpayer funds by having his staff take women to obtain abortions.

"I don’t run a taxi service from jail to an abortion clinic and back," Arpaio told the Associated Press. "Where do you draw the line?"

ACLU attorney Angie Polizzi told the Associated Press that her group believes abortion is a constitutional right that should not be revoked when a woman is jailed. Polizzi said she is concerned that some women must wait for weeks for a court order authorizing her to be transported to an abortion business.

Arpaio and the ACLU are battling over a woman who Arpaio refused to take to abortion facility in May. Though the woman eventually had an abortion, the ACLU is suing Arpaio to change his policy against transporting women.

Arpaio said fewer than three women a year request an abortion and 45 women out of the 1,000 in his prison are currently pregnant.

Several other counties in Arizona and nationwide have a similar policy.

This isn’t the first time abortion advocates have fought to enable women in prison to have abortions.

A federal appeals court heard the case of a pregnant Louisiana inmate who sued the state because it denied her the ability to get an abortion. There, county officials said a law prohibited taxpayer-funding of abortions required the county to prohibit women from being transported for abortions.

Danna Schwab, an attorney for the parish government, told the court the woman’s rights had not been violated. "I don’t think you have a right to an abortion when you’re in jail," Schwab said.

Pro-life groups agree the pro-life law was applied correctly.

"Louisiana law recognizes that prisoners should be given medically necessary treatment," said Dorinda Bordlee an attorney with Americans United for Life. "However, pregnancy is not a disease and elective abortion is not medically necessary."

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals eventually sided with the state.