By Michael Baggot

WASHINGTON, DC, March 25, 2008 ( – The Supreme Court decided on Monday not to overturn a lower court ruling that protected an Arizona woman’s access to an abortion off jail grounds. 

“Today’s announcement puts an end to Maricopa County prison officials’ blatant disregard of the law and failure to ensure that prisoners get the health care they need,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, the ACLU Arizona executive director. “It’s the end of the road for Sheriff Arpaio’s campaign against reproductive freedom.”

In December 2004, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio refused to transport a 19-year-old Arizona woman to an abortionist until she received a court order on the grounds that the abortion was not a “medically necessary” procedure.  It took the woman seven weeks to gain the court order that the correction officials required. 

The ACLU then filed a lawsuit stating that the Arizona county policies placed an “undue burden” on inmates seeking abortions.  In 2005, a state court ruled that the woman should have been given transportation without suffering the “substantial obstacle” of getting a court order. 

According to the state court, “The county regularly transports inmates for court appearances, compassionate visits and non-emergency, medically necessary treatment.  Transportation for abortion services are a negligible fraction of the overall transportation the county performs each year.”

The Sheriff’s Office then appealed the state court’s decision, arguing that transportation would involve public funding for an abortion not allowed by Arizona law.  However, because the Arizona inmate was willing to pay for the transportation and abortion herself, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that she would not be a burden on the jail’s resources.

“As we have shown throughout this case, a pregnant woman in prison does not lose her right to decide to have an abortion any more than she gives up her right to have a child,” said Brigette Amiri, ACLU staff attorney, following the appeals court decision.

Sheriff Arpaio has continued to defend his decision, saying, “I did the right thing and I would do it over again,”

See previous coverage:

Judge: Missouri Must Provide Transportation for Inmates Wanting Abortions

Judge Rules Phoenix Sheriff Cannot Refuse to Transport Inmates for Elective Abortion