Prisoners in the United States prison system must relinquish certain rights as they enter jail. Yet I fear any country that will force a prisoner to give up not just personal freedoms but basic human rights. Such may be the case in many U.S. prisons, both here and on foreign soil, but one prison found itself in the spotlight for its denial of human rights to one of its prisoners.
The ACLU recently championed the case of an Arizona inmate seeking a first-trimester abortion. Learning she was pregnant just before entering prison, Jane Doe asked the prosecutor to allow her to begin her sentence after obtaining an abortion. Her request was denied. Unfortunately, she was entering a prison in which it was unwritten law that no inmate seeking an abortion would be granted one. Joe Arpaio, the sheriff in charge of Maricopa County Jail, has “maintained the policy throughout his tenure, consistent with his well-publicized stance against abortion and his ‘America’s toughest sheriff’ persona.” Arpaio himself has admitted that under this policy, “The gal may have the baby by the time it gets through the court system.”
With the help of the ACLU, Jane Doe challenged this unwritten policy. The court ruled in her favor, granting inmates the right to obtain an abortion despite being in the prison system. The sheriff has repeatedly appealed the decision. This week the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the latest challenge and by doing so (or not doing so) affirmed the right of a prisoner to obtain an abortion. In its highly readable brief, the ACLU enumerates the many injustices faced by this prisoner including the fact that when the guards learned she was pregnant and wanted an abortion, she was transferred to a part of the prison with limited phone access.
The fact that the United States Supreme Court has decided to protect an inmate’s rights is a significant one, but prisoner’s rights are still in danger in the United States every day. The ACLU has represented many prisoners being treated unjustly, and has long championed a woman’s right to have — or not have — a child in prison. This fact sheet speaks specifically to the ACLU’s championing of reproductive rights in prison. If you know of someone in prison who is being denied abortion care or prenatal care, you or the inmate can either contact the nearest ACLU or call the national Reproductive Freedom Project collect 212-549-2633 (Monday-Friday 9:30 am to 5 pm eastern time).
Marshall, Duvall Project