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Missouri Must Allow Inmate Abortions

The state must allow pregnant inmates to have an abortion and must transport them to facilities that perform the procedure, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple in Kansas City applies to all female prisoners in Missouri. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state had to allow a specific inmate, listed as Jane Roe, to have an abortion. Following that ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union asked the court to make the ruling a class action on behalf of all imprisoned pregnant women in the state.

"It reaffirms two principles that are pretty important: the rights of prisoners to their constitutional rights while they are incarcerated and the rights of pregnant women to have the choice as to whether they will carry (pregnancy) to term or not," said Tom Blumenthal of St. Louis, one of the lawyers for the ACLU.

A spokesman for Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon would not speculate on whether the decision would be appealed. But Gov. Matt Blunt urged Nixon to do so.

"This ruling violates our traditional Missouri values and is an affront to everyone that values the sanctity of human life," Blunt said in a written statement. "I urge the attorney general to fight this ruling that prevents the state of Missouri from protecting innocent human life."

At issue was a policy against helping prisoners obtain abortions. In the summer of 2005, the state abandoned a long-standing policy of providing transportation and guards for inmates wanting abortions, except in cases where the inmate's life or health was endangered. The state cited costs and security concerns.

Whipple ruled last year that the state had to provide the transportation for Doe and ordered corrections officials to take her to a St. Louis clinic. The cost for the transportation and guard salaries was estimated at $350.

Blunt appealed to the Supreme Court, calling Whipple's ruling "an outrageous order from an activist federal judge." But the Supreme Court declined to intervene.

Roe, serving a four-year sentence, said she discovered she was pregnant not long after being arrested last summer for probation violations in California. She had an abortion on Oct. 20, three days after the Supreme Court decision.

Blumenthal said that in any given month, 35 to 50 Missouri inmates are pregnant. He said that in addition to Roe, two other inmates have had abortions since the October ruling, and at least one inmate was denied an abortion before the ACLU filed the case.
Blumenthal said Missouri's regulation prohibiting abortions for inmates was unique, and he did not believe the ruling would have ramifications for other U.S. states.

Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, applauded Whipple's ruling "for recognizing that women do not give up their right to abortion care when they enter prison."

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