The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit heard arguments Monday on the whether the state of Missouri can deny incarcerated women access to a timely and safe abortion. The Reproductive Freedom Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is arguing the class-action case, which began when Missouri prison officials denied a woman prisoner abortion care in 2005. Prior to that, the Missouri Department of Corrections had provided transportation for women seeking an abortion. They amended their policy to do so if a women’s health or life were in danger.
After the ACLU took on the woman’s case, a district court judge ordered the state to transport her to an abortion clinic. The state appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court’s ruling. In 2006 the district court ruled that women prisoners maintain their constitutional right to abortion and that prison officials must provide access to the procedure. Missouri’s attorney general appealed this decision, resulting in the case coming before the appeals court.
“Missouri has long provided women prisoners with all other pregnancy-related health care,” said Brenda Jones, the executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “A woman does not give up her right to have an abortion any more than she gives up her right to have a child just because she is incarcerated.”
According to the Associated Press, Missouri has transported three women inmates to obtain an abortion in the last year. Between July 2006 and July 2007, 52 female prisoners from just one women’s prison delivered babies at area hospitals.
While a ruling could take months, Talcott Camp, Deputy Director of the ALCU’s Reproductive Freedom Project said in a phone interview that “we are optimistic that the court will affirm incarcerated women’s rights.”