Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, ACLU Fight Over Inmate Abortion Transportation Costs

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 14, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, ACLU Fight Over Inmate Abortion Transportation Costs

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 14
, 2009

Phoenix, AZ ( — Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the ACLU are battling again over making the government pay for the costs of transporting inmates for abortions. Their previous legal battle went all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court when Arpaio had prohibited the taking of prisoners for abortions.

Arpaio decided against transporting 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 a state appeals court ruled unanimously against his policy and the state Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

Now, Arpaio is facing another legal battle from the ACLU for requiring inmates who want abortions to pay the county up front. In December 2008, prison officials asked an inmate identified as “Sarah Poe” to pay $500 for her abortion transportation costs up front.

ACLU Executive Director Alessandra Solar Meetze told KPHO “He can’t ask people to pre-pay to receive these medical services. “The sheriff has an obligation to follow the law. He cannot pick and choose which laws to follow based on his political agenda."

The pro-abortion legal group filed a motion in Maricopa Superior Court last week to stop Arpaio from requiring the money.

Arpaio told KPHO in response, "To say I do this for political reason or person, that’s not true. Our policy that we have been disseminating is that the person will be transported to the abortion clinic."

The ACLU first filed suit against the sheriff in 2004 and 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 sided with the ACLU.

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.

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. Arpaio’s office says the staff time involved in transporting a mother for an abortion could cost as much as $1,000.

Other states have also tackled the problem of being forced to pay for transportation costs related to prisoner abortions.

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.

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