Arizona Appeals Court to Hold Hearing on Taking Inmates for Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 28, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Arizona Appeals Court to Hold Hearing on Taking Inmates for Abortions Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 28
, 2006

Phoenix, AZ ( — An Arizona state appeals court is set to hold a hearing today on a case involving a county sheriff who says taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for taking pregnant inmates to have an abortion. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says he doesn’t want to involve taxpayer funds in the transportation process.

Arpaio’s office says the staff time involved in transporting a mother for an abortion could cost as much as $1,000 and that three women prisoners or fewer get abortions each year.

Attorneys for the ACLU filed suit against Arpaio saying the policy, which required the mother to get a court order for an abortion, interferes with the so-called right to have an abortion.

Current Arizona law prohibits paying for the abortion directly but says nothing about using taxpayer money to pay for helping a woman obtain an abortion.

In May 2004, Arpaio’s staff prohibited an unnamed inmate from obtaining an abortion and cited a county policy preventing them from taking her for one unless the abortion was medically necessary. After two unsuccessful attempts, the woman received permission from a judge for the abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union in October 2004 challenged the policy and Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Barry Schneider ruled this August that the policy placed an undue burden on a woman’s "right" to an abortion.

Arpaio appealed the decision.

"We’ll have to fight that through the legal system," Arpaio told the Arizona Republic newspaper. "I’m not going to surrender."

"We’re going to appeal this up to the state Supreme Court. And if I lose it all the way, I want to get it into the federal courts … and the [U.S.] Supreme Court," he added.

Special Assistant County Attorney Barnett Lotstein told the Republic newspaper that the case is a matter of defending state law and county policy.

"This is not an abortion issue as far as we’re concerned," he said, adding, "It’s a matter of enforcing the law as written by the Legislature."

In October 2005, the Supreme Court let stand a federal judge’s and appeals court decision allowing a Missouri inmate facing the same situation to have an abortion.

In 2004, 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.

Pro-life groups there agreed the pro-life law was applied correctly.

"Louisiana law recognizes that prisoners should be given medically necessary treatment," said Dorinda Bordlee, a pro-life attorney. "However, pregnancy is not a disease and elective abortion is not medically necessary."

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals eventually sided with the state against the inmate’s request for the abortion.