Missouri Case of Paying for Inmates’ Abortions Gets No Supreme Court Review
by Steven Ertelt
October 6, 2008
Jefferson City, MO (LifeNews.com) — A Missouri court case involving a question of whether state taxpayers should be forced to pay for the abortions of pregnant inmates did not get a review from the Supreme Court. A federal appeals court ruled in January that Missouri correctional facilities must take pregnant prisoners for elective abortions at taxpayer expense.
The ruling came despite state law prohibiting Missouri from paying for abortions with public funds.
The state appealed a judge’s decision last year forcing it to transport a pregnant prisoner to get an abortion, but a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the lower court’s decision.
The state appealed the appellate court’s ruling to the Supreme Court, which denied review in the case, known as Roe v. Crawford.
Denise Burke, the vice president and legal director for Americans United for Life, told LifeNews.com Monday she was disappointed the high court didn’t take the case.
"By denying review, the Supreme Court is allowing a prisoner to unilaterally demand that she be transported for a controversial elective procedure where the associated costs will ultimately be borne by the taxpayers," Burke said.
"The Court is also ignoring the state’s interest in protecting women from the negative consequences of abortion-especially those women who are in custody and under the care of the state," she added.
AUL filed an amicus brief on behalf of Missouri legislators arguing in favor of the prison policy.
The Eighth Circuit sided in part with AUL, agreeing that the denial of elective abortions does not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment, and even stating that elective abortions do not constitute medical need.
However, the court ultimately agreed with the inmate that her Fourteenth Amendment "right" to abortion means that the state must transport her for abortion.
The appeals court decision upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple issued in 2006 saying pregnant inmates can get abortions and the state must use taxpayer-funded transportation to get them to the abortion center.
The state said the policy against transporting inmates for abortions was based on a 1986 state law prohibiting the use of state-funded facilities or employees in assisting abortions unless it’s needed to save the pregnant woman’s life.
Whipple rejected Attorney General Jay Nixon argument in his July 2006 ruling saying, "This case simply does not concern state subsidization of abortion services."
The ACLU, which sued for the prisoner’s abortion, has estimated that about 35-50 women are pregnant in the Missouri prison system at any given time.
Gov. Matt Blunt opposed the judge’s ruling and said he wanted Nixon to file an appeal.
"This ruling violates our traditional Missouri values and is an affront to everyone that values the sanctity of human life," Blunt said in a written statement. "I urge the attorney general to fight this ruling that prevents the state of Missouri from protecting innocent human life."
Taking prisoners to abortion facilities has been in issue in other states as well.
In 2006, an Arizona county sheriff requested a ruling from a state appeals court on whether he could refuse to take inmates for elective abortions because he didn’t want to involve taxpayer funds in the transportation process.
The Arizona Supreme Court eventually sided with the appeals court.
Also that year, a woman in a Tennessee jail pending a trial on a charge of possessing and selling drugs was granted a request to leave prison to have an abortion. Federal District Court Magistrate Bruce Guyton approved the request.
The latest Missouri case is Roe v. Crawford, et al., No. 05-4333-CV-C-DW.
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