Pennsylvania County Forced to Pay for Inmate’s Abortion Despite Policy

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 27, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pennsylvania County Forced to Pay for Inmate’s Abortion Despite Policy Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 27
, 2007

Wilkes Barre, PA ( — The state of Pennsylvania is the latest to grapple with the issue of whether or not to pay for the abortion of a pregnant female inmate. Arizona, Missouri and Louisiana have all dealt with the question and debates in those states have wound up in court.

Prison officials at the Luzerne County prison say they have been forced to spend $2,000 on a woman’s late-term abortion.

The inmate in question was 20 weeks pregnant and had to be transported to Philadelphia for the abortion, Warden Gene Fischi told the Times Leader newspaper.

Fischi and Deputy Warden Sam Hyder told the newspaper they objected to spending taxpayer funds on the abortion but indicated they were legally obligated to do so.

They cited the case of Karen Ptaschnik of Hazleton who filed suit against the county in 1998 after the prison refused her request for an abortion. A judge ruled in her favor but she decided at the last minute to keep the baby.

The prison board then adopted a policy saying that abortions would only be paid for in cases of medical emergencies. However, Fischi told the Times Leader that county solicitor James Blaum and attorneys with the state Department of Corrections said the policy can’t be enforced.

They said a 1987 case in federal court involving inmates in New Jersey trumped the prison board’s rules by requiring prisons to give women all pregnancy options and pay for an abortion if she requests ones.
“We were not in favor of it, but we can’t sidetrack the law,” Fischi said.

States are increasingly confronting the question of whether they can prohibit spending tax money on taking inmates for abortions.

In January, an Arizona state court of appeals unanimously ruled that Maricopa County must take pregnant inmates for abortions if they request one. County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had previously instituted a policy prohibiting the taking of prisoners for abortions because taxpayer funds would be involved in the transportation and staff time needed.

Arpaio had said the abortions would violate state laws against public funding of abortions but the appeals court ruled unanimously against his policy.

The ruling said Arpaio instituted an "exaggerated response" to the abortion funding statute and that his policy violates the privacy rights of the inmates.

The three judge Court of Appeals panel upheld the ruling of a lower district court that sided with the pro-abortion ACLU in its lawsuit seeking to overturn the abortion policy.

In October 2005, the U.S. 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 with the Bioethics Defense Fund. "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.