Arizona Policy on Taking Prisoners for Abortions Won’t Get Supreme Court Review

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 24, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Arizona Policy on Taking Prisoners for Abortions Won’t Get Supreme Court Review Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 24
, 2008

Phoenix, AZ ( — The Supreme Court will not review a lower court decision making Maricopa County officials take pregnant inmates for abortions. County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had prohibited the taking of prisoners for abortions because taxpayer funds would be involved in the transportation and staff time needed.

The policy prohibited jail officials from transporting a prisoner for an abortion unless she first obtained a court order.

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

In September, the Arizona Supreme Court let stand the appeals court ruling and attorneys for the county sought a review of that ruling at the national level.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it would not review the state decision.

For the ACLU, the pro-abortion law firm that sued the county over the policy, the announcement is a victory.

"It is not up to prison officials to decide whether a woman prisoner should carry a pregnancy to term or not," Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney told in a statement.

The ACLU sued on behalf of a pregnant woman and future prisoners who may seek abortions in May 2004.

After the Arizona Supreme Court decision, Arpaio told the East Valley Tribune “I did the right thing and I would do it over again."

He indicated he may ask state legislators to approve a bill that would allow counties to refuse taking inmates for abortions.

The appeals court 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 said that while taxpayer funds would be used to take the woman for an abortion no funds would be spent on the abortion itself, meaning the jail would still be following state law.

Judge Patrick Irvine ruled that Arpaio can’t discriminate against women having abortions when he takes other women to hospitals and health centers for legitimate medical procedures.

During the appeals court hearing, county attorney Daryl Manhart said it’s common for inmates to get court orders for medical procedures that aren’t medically necessary. He pointed to other courts that have ruled government resources shouldn’t be used in abortions.

"If she were outside of the jail, she could execute the decision without our resources," Manhart said, according to the Republic. "The state is not obligated to provide resources for that decision."

Manhart also said that Correctional Health Services, the medical staff for the prison, doesn’t think abortions are medically necessary.

Just five female inmates have sought abortions over the last several years, and all of them used their own money to pay for the actual abortion.

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.

The Arizona case is Arpaio v. Doe, 07-839.