ACLU: Texas jail violated inmate's abortion rights

May 21, 2010 12:54:35 PM PDT
A Texas sheriff violated an inmate's constitutional rights to an abortion by refusing to transport her to a clinic, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Federal courts in several states have ruled that a woman's right to an abortion is protected by law, even if she is behind bars and the procedure is not medically necessary, said Lisa Graybill, legal director for the ACLU of Texas.

"A jail certainly isn't required to provide an abortion or pay for it, but it isn't allowed to deny access," Graybill told The Associated Press, adding that the woman's family had arranged the appointment and was going to pay for the abortion.

Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler, a Republican who was elected to his second four-year term in 2008, said the woman could have posted bail and left jail sooner to have the abortion on her own.

"My personal feeling is I don't feel like the taxpayers of Parker County would think much of their sheriff spending taxpayer money to take people to abortion clinics," Fowler told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a story in Friday editions.

The ACLU of Texas sent a letter this week warning Parker County about its "obligation to accommodate that constitutional right," but the county's attorney John Forrest said laws were being followed.

The ACLU said it didn't plan sue in this case because the woman, whose name was withheld, was recently released on probation and obtained an abortion.

Bill Mateja, a former Justice Department official and Dallas attorney, said there's "a gray area" because the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which oversees Texas, ruled in 2004 that some restrictions can be placed on an inmate's abortion rights.

But in 2008, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis declared unconstitutional the Missouri Department of Corrections' policy prohibiting transportation of inmates to clinics for abortions that were not medically necessary.

The American Bar Association's Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners says inmates have a right to an abortion, said Michele Deitch, who helped draft the standards and is a senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the University of Texas School of Law.

If an inmate requests an abortion, government agencies should "facilitate access" by promptly scheduling an appointment and transporting her to a clinic, according to the 2010 standards.

Adan Munoz, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, said its rules do not specifically address abortions but jails are required to provide care deemed medically necessary.

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