County jail officials defied a court order to transport an inmate who wanted an off-site abortion, according to a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union this week in Maricopa County Superior Court.
ACLU attorneys say jail officials told a woman who sought an abortion in April that she’d need a judge’s approval, despite a 2005 injunction that forbade the jail from imposing a policy against taking women to have abortions.
As a result, the motion says, the abortion was delayed nearly a month, causing it to become a two-day procedure that placed the inmate at greater risk for medical complications.
The Arizona Court of Appeals last year upheld a lower court’s ruling that found that Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s unwritten policy violated a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. Arpaio — who likened it to running a “taxi service from jail to an abortion clinic and back” — appealed again, but both the state and U.S. supreme courts declined to hear the matter.
“He’s imposing his own ideological views on these women,” Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU in Arizona, said Thursday. “He’s entitled to his own opinion, but he’s not entitled to disregard the medical needs of these inmates — which is exactly what happened.”
In court papers, the ACLU accused Correctional Health Services staff of telling the inmate that she needed a court order to be transported for an abortion. The motion also accuses Arpaio’s chief deputy, Jack MacIntyre, of failing to inform the woman’s attorney that a court order was unnecessary, suggesting instead that she try to get her client placed on work release.
MacIntyre acknowledged that, but said it wasn’t his job to tell public defender Rebecca Kirchler about the injunction. He called the ACLU’s claims “a complete fabrication” and said Kirchler failed to return several phone calls on the matter.
“Any delay was not because of us denying an order to transport her, because we didn’t require one,” he said. “It was (the attorney’s) laziness and ineptitude that resulted in the delay.”
But ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri said it is MacIntyre’s job, and that of other jail and correctional health staff, to advise women of their right to an off-site abortion. She said she’s concerned other inmates may face delays that ultimately deny their right to an abortion.
“I think that illustrates why we needed to file this motion,” said Amiri, of the ACLU’s reproductive freedom project. “The omission, the fact that he did not say ... means he doesn’t see that following the law is his responsibility.”
Lawyers for the sheriff’s office had argued in the 2005 case that inmates had no right to be transported for elective medical procedures, putting abortions in the same category as cosmetic surgery and routine dental work.
Fewer than 10 court orders for off-site abortions have been issued since the policy was implemented in 1990.
The motion seeks to have Arpaio held in contempt and require the sheriff’s office to post notices inside the jail, in English and Spanish, regarding abortion rights. It also asks for a written policy and training on the matter.