A state judge has ruled it is illegal for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to require a court order before allowing women in his jails to get an abortion.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Barry Schneider rejected Arpaio’s arguments that there are legitimate reasons for the policy. Schneider, in a ruling released Wednesday, said it appears the policy is really designed to protect the sheriff from "politically unpopular decisions.’’
Arpaio acknowledged he opposes abortion, but said that has nothing to do with the policy.
"You lose a lot of rights when you’re in jail, whether it’s trying to get an abortion or watching R-rated movies or sex movies or smoking or coffee,’’ he said.
But Louise Melling, an attorney with the Reproductive Freedom Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, said Arpaio is off base. She said courts have consistently ruled that governments cannot put "substantial obstacles’’ in the path of women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.
Arpaio vowed to appeal.
The unwritten policy, in place for several years, became an issue last year when an unidentified inmate sought an abortion. The sheriff’s office refused, forcing the woman to go to court, a process that took several weeks.
That, said Schneider, shows the policy presents an undue burden. But the judge said it is an unconstitutional burden even if there is no delay.
He said Arpaio claims the policy is necessary to ensure the security of inmates and others.
But Schneider noted the sheriff doesn’t demand a court order to transport inmates to visit sick relatives, attend funerals of relatives or hearing a will read.
"Abortion is a different issue than visiting a sick person,’’ Arpaio responded.
He said forcing deputies to transport inmates for an elective abortion would be like providing transportation for a nose job.
Schneider also rebuffed Arpaio’s argument that the policy ensures compliance with a state law that prohibits the use of public funds for an abortion.
"This concern loses its validity as long as the inmate arranges to pay for the procedures, as occurred in this case,’’ the judge wrote. Anyway, Schneider said, "providing transportation is not paying for performance of an abortion.’’
Schneider also rejected Arpaio’s contention that requiring a court order protects the county against being sued later by some third party who may have an interest in the fetus.