Supreme top court allows abortion for Missouri inmate
Mon Oct 17, 1:37 PM ET
The U.S. Supreme Court under new Chief Justice John Roberts cleared the way on Monday for a pregnant Missouri prisoner to obtain an abortion, despite objections from state officials.
In a brief order without comment or recorded dissent, the high court rejected Missouri's request to put on hold a federal judge's order requiring that prison authorities transport the inmate to a St. Louis clinic for an abortion.
How Roberts would rule on abortion was a major issue in his confirmation hearings in the Senate. This was the first abortion-related case the court has acted upon since he became chief justice, but since there was no written ruling it does not necessarily signify how he would vote on the issue in future cases.
Officials said Missouri has a prison policy that female prisoners will be sent out of their institutions for abortions only if the procedure is medically necessary.
They cited Missouri's laws that they said discourage abortions and encourage childbirth. They said any time an inmate is transported outside of a prison it raises possible security issues.
Even if there is some infringement of the prisoner's constitutional rights to choose an abortion, "a prison regulation may validly impinge on such rights if the regulation is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests," state officials argued.
According to the court record in the case, the woman, identified only by the pseudonym "Jane Roe," is approximately 16 or 17 weeks pregnant. Her attorneys said that for seven weeks prison officials have prohibited her from obtaining an abortion.
Talcott Camp, an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the inmate, said in a statement that women do not give up the right to terminate a pregnancy when they enter prison.
"The state's actions in this case were contrary to Missouri's own long-standing policy when it comes to inmates' access to reproductive healthcare, in addition to policies in the federal prison system and all the state prison systems we know of," Camp said.
Gov. Matt Blunt expressed disappointment and said the high court's order "is highly offensive to traditional Missouri values and is contrary to state law, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from being spent to facilitate abortions."
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