Judge: Mo. inmates have right to abortions

A Missouri judge has ruled that inmates have the right to have abortions while they are incarcerated.

Judge Dean Whipple of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week against opposition from the Missouri Department of Corrections and anti-abortion groups.

While the American Civil Liberties Union has applauded this decision, the Missouri Department of Corrections has concerns about this ruling.

“We do not take positions on the court’s rulings, but we have serious security concerns,” Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Hauswirth said.

Prisoners must be taken from the institution to an outside center to have the abortion performed.

“When we take inmates out of the institution, there are concerns about escapes,” Hauswirth said.

Department of Corrections officials worry that prisoners will try to coordinate escape plans while they are out of the institution. Whipple did not agree with this concern, Hauswirth said.

Department of Corrections officials are also concerned about the cost to the department.

“We do not offer any other elective medical procedures transportation. Every time an offender leaves for an abortion, it costs about $348,” Hauswirth said.

When an offender leaves the institution, a lieutenant and a sergeant must accompany them, and gas money must be provided. There is the worry about taking two officers from the institution, Hauswirth said.

Hauswirth said there have been no escapes, but it is a continuing concern for the department.

The ACLU is pleased with the court’s decision.

“[The] decision is consistent with rulings from across the country that women prisoners do not lose their reproductive rights once they are incarcerated,” stated an ACLU press release.

ACLU lawyers were the lead lawyers in this case. They were called in early for a specific woman wanting an abortion, said Lorraine Kenny, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project spokeswoman.

“ACLU asked a court to require the prison to transport the woman for an abortion,” the news release stated.

The court ruled the prison must transport the woman to a nearby health care facility, which the state tried unsuccessfully to appeal.

This was expanded to a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all incarcerated pregnant women in Missouri seeking abortions, according to the news release. ACLU attorneys worked with their affiliate, ACLU of Missouri, in this case.

“This is what we do,” Kenny said. “We fight for people’s rights. Women have a right to good reproductive health care.”

Kenny said escape is not an issue.

“Prisoners are taken out of their institutions for all sorts of things, including funerals and necessary medical care, and escape is not an issue,” she said. “There is no reason for abortions to be singled out.”

If the ruling is taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, ACLU will continue to provide defense, Kenny said.

“Women cannot be denied reproductive health care,” she said.

About 14 inmates have had abortions since 2003, with seven occurring between 2005 and now, Hauswirth said. The last was in July 2007.

Attorney General Jay Nixon, attorney Thomas Blumenthal and a Missouri Right spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

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