Prisoner in Oregon Wants Taxpayers to Fund Abortion Trip

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 6, 2011   |   11:31AM   |   Salem, OR

A woman who is in jail in Oregon wants taxpayers to pay for officials to take her to an abortion center for an abortion and her desire is causing a dustup between her defense attorney and prosecutors.

Bridget Burkholder, a 23-year-old Portland resident is currently in Yamhill County Jail awaiting trial on charges of arson, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct after she damaged a motel room in a bid to set herself on fire. The pregnant mother also faces charges of reckless driving and driving under the influence related to another incident.

Burkholder currently doesn’t have the funds to pay for her $6,500 bail according to her court-appointed attorney, Abraham Hanson. Because she is in prison, and because she is pregnant and wanting an abortion, she wants the county to pay to transport her for the abortion and officials have refused.

She appeared in court last Thursday, according to the News Register newspaper. There, Hanson told Circuit Judge John Collins that Burkholder is running out of time to get the abortion and he requested that Judge Collins grant her a conditional release to be able to have the abortion and then return to prison. The release would be unsupervised and, according to the paper, Judge Collins denied the release after hearing from the jail’s licensed social worker, Patricia Brown.

Judge Collins said Sheriff Jack Crabtree had the legal authority to take the woman to Salem for the abortion and return her to prison. But Crabtree told the newspaper he won’t accept that authority unless the court directs him to do so.

“I don’t do medical furloughs on pretrial leave,” Crabtree told the News-Register. “If this lady is of sound mind and ability to make decisions, then the judge has full ability to release her. Until I get a court order, I am not going to release somebody into society that could be a danger to herself or others.”

Hanson, her attorney, said he hoped to work out an agreement to get Burkholder the abortion and he said it is his job as a defense attorney to make sure his client is protected.

“Although it is an adversarial system, in Yamhill County we have pretty good success in working together, and we’ve got to find common ground on this,” Hanson said. “I would hope we can come to a consensus on an appropriate resolution.”

Prosecutor Michael Videtich has opposed the conditional release, saying that Burkholder faces no medical emergency and said, “This is an elective procedure she has a right to have. But she can post bail.” But Burkholder told the judge, “This is an emergency.”

Oregon Right to Life executive director Gayle Attebury responded to the situation, saying she is concerned taxpayers will be on the hook for the abortion and transportation costs.

“This is a heartbreaking example of taxpayer’s paying to end a precious baby’s life. Presumably this lady’s abortion would be paid for by the Oregon Health Plan, plus, to add insult to injury, taxpayers would pay for her to be escorted to the abortionist,” she told LifeNews.

The issue of inmates getting abortions has been a thorny one and the last fight took place in Arizona, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the ACLU battled 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.

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.