Missouri inmates have the right to obtain elective abortions, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It throws out a policy by Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration and the Missouri Department of Corrections that restricted an inmate’s access to abortion.
Thomas M. Blumenthal, the St. Louis lawyer who brought the suit on behalf of an anonymous “Jane Roe” inmate, applauded the decision.
“This (abortion) is not a right that is lost at the jailhouse door,” he said.
In a written statement, Blunt said he was disappointed and noted that state law prohibits using tax money for abortions.
“Over the last three years, we have … enacted laws that reflect our profound respect for the inherent dignity of each and every life,” Blunt said. “I am hopeful and prayerful that we can further protect life by enhancing our laws to defend the dignity of human life.”
A Department of Corrections spokesman said the state would comply while considering appeals options.
“We will have to abide by the court order, as we have been,” said Brian Hauswirth. “That said, we have serious security concerns.”
“Jane Roe” received an abortion soon after filing the suit in October 2005. The lawsuit was then amended to represent all female inmates seeking elective abortions.
Roe left state custody in 2006, Blumenthal said.
A policy enacted in September 2005 had barred corrections officials from taking female inmates from a prison in Vandalia to St. Louis for elective abortions. Prison officials said security concerns and cost savings prompted the policy.
State officials estimated $350 for fuel and two guards.
While acknowledging that prison officials had made their point on the security question, appeals judges found other state arguments lacking. State officials had established no alternate means for inmates to obtain elective abortions, had overstated the impact on prison resources and had miscalculated the cost savings.
Pregnant inmates probably would take more trips out of the prison for prenatal care, the judges found.
But while the appeals judges affirmed U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple’s original ruling, they faulted his finding that the state’s policy violated Roe’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishment.”
State officials had not been indifferent to a serious medical need, the judges found.
Patty Skain, executive director of Missouri Right to Life, said the decision was unfortunate, but not surprising.
“We believe the majority of Americans don’t agree with the broad, sweeping effects of Roe v. Wade,” she said. “We just need to go to a time when we are a little more careful and cautions about how we value life.”