PHOENIX - August 7 - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion yesterday to hold
Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio in contempt for disobeying a court order
that would allow women prisoners in Maricopa County to obtain timely, safe, and
legal abortions. In addition, today's motion asks the court to provide
additional safeguards for women prisoners seeking abortion care.
"Arizona courts have clearly ruled that prison officials cannot stand in the
way of the medical needs of women prisoners," said Brigitte Amiri, a staff
attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "It's regrettable that we
need to take extra steps to ensure that Sheriff Arpaio follows the law."
At issue in the original case was an unwritten Maricopa County Jail policy
prohibiting jail officials from transporting a prisoner to obtain an abortion
unless she first got a court order. In August 2005, the Superior Court of
Arizona, Maricopa County, struck down the unwritten policy, holding that it
violated women's reproductive rights and served "no legitimate penological
purpose." The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld that decision; both the Arizona
and the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
In May of 2008, prison officials defied the courts by continuing to enforce
the unwritten policy when a woman prisoner, "Mary Roe," requested transportation
for an abortion. When Roe's lawyer spoke with Sheriff Arpaio's Deputy Chief,
John McIntyre, who had been involved in the original case and knew the court's
decision, he failed to tell her that inmates must be transported for abortion
care without a court order. It took the ACLU's intervention to ensure that
prison officials followed the law; still, their initial non-compliance delayed
Roe's abortion by four weeks.
"The courts have already confirmed our position that Arizona prison officials
cannot ignore the medical needs of prisoners simply because they do not agree
with the decision to end a pregnancy," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive
Director of the ACLU of Arizona. "Now, given the disregard of the court ruling
by Sheriff Arpaio and his staff, it appears that we need to spell out the law
more clearly to protect future women detainees."
The motion asks the court to require the jail to post signs in both English
and Spanish informing prisoners of their right to be transported. In addition,
all employees would be required to sign a statement acknowledging that they have
been informed of the law.
Today's case is Doe v. Arpaio, CV2004-009286. Lawyers on the case
include Amiri and Talcott Camp with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, and
Dan Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona.
To read the ACLU's motion, visit: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/abortion/36263lgl20080806.html