From Truth Out/ By Victoria Law
Should sheriffs and other jail staff be allowed to decide whether a woman can obtain an abortion? When a woman is arrested and incarcerated, should her reproductive rights be stripped from her? Based on their actions against a woman in custody this past month, Rick Singleton, the sheriff of Lauderdale County Jail in Florence, Alabama, and district attorney Chris Connolly seem to think so. They may also have set a precedent for any other law enforcement seeking to prevent women from seeking abortions—throw up enough obstacles and she’ll decide to carry the pregnancy to term.
Last month, 29-year-old “Jane Doe” entered the Lauderdale County Jail. She already knew that she was pregnant. So did the authorities—accused of exposing her embryo to drugs, she had been arrested under Alabama’s chemical endangerment law. Shortly after her arrival, on July 10, she requested a medical furlough, which is a temporary release for medical reasons, to obtain an abortion. The nearest abortion provider is approximately 75 miles away in Huntsville, Alabama, which provides abortions up to 21.6 weeks. According to the suit she filed, Jane Doe was not requesting that the jail pay for the procedure; she would pay for both the abortion and transportation to the clinic on her own.
Nonetheless, three days later, the sheriff denied her request. According to court documents, his response read, “It is the policy of this office that all non-emergency services are provided through our medical staff at the jail. Your request cannot be handled by our staff and on its face, it does not constitute a medical emergency.” If she wanted an abortion, he concluded, “a Court Order will be required directing the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department to transport you to Huntsville, Alabama, for the stated purpose.” So, Jane Doe, whose current release date is unknown, requested just that. With the assistance of the ACLU in Alabama, she filed a lawsuit in federal court. On Monday, July 29, Jane Doe had a hearing as to whether being in jail should restrict her right to an abortion. Then she had to wait even longer—the judge stated that he would issue his ruling on Friday, July 31. (more…)