OCTOBER 19, 2009
The popular elected official who operates the prison system in one of the nation’s largest counties is being sued for unconstitutionally restricting the rights of inmates to have abortions.
Well known nationally for conducting effective immigration raids that have cleaned up the Phoenix metropolitan area, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio illegally obstructs inmates’ access to abortion care, according to a 22-page lawsuit filed on behalf of a prisoner in Arizona Superior Court. In doing so the sheriff violates protection against cruel and unusual punishment guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s right to access reproductive healthcare.
The complaint alleges that a transportation and security fee charged to prisoners who want to terminate a pregnancy is designed to obstruct access to abortion care and creates unnecessary delay. It’s simply the latest tactic in the sheriff’s long history of creating obstacles that delay inmates seeking abortion care, the complaint goes on to say, often pushing women further into their pregnancies.
The county charges all inmates who opt to have elective medical procedures, such as abortions, $300 to $600 for transportation and mandatory deputy escorts. Otherwise, the sheriff says, taxpayers would unfairly absorb the cost. Arpaio first got sued over abortion in 2004 when he forced an inmate to get a court order before providing transportation to an abortion clinic.
This week’s lawsuit, filed by a notoriously liberal civil rights group, asks the court to enforce a rule that gives prisoners “timely, safe and legal abortion care” and prohibits the sheriff from charging for transportation and security. The complaint points out that, although abortion is a safe procedure, each week of delay presents an increased risk of complications such as perforation of the uterus, hemorrhaging and even death.
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