In the ongoing legal battle over whether Missouri inmates have a right to access abortion services, an appeals court panel heard arguments this week as to whether the state is required to transport incarcerated women off-site to have an abortion.
As we’ve noted before Missouri usually has from 35 to 50 pregnant inmates in any given month and surveys of incarcerated women have shown that more than 83 percent have had a history of unplanned pregnancy.
RH Reality Check sums up nicely what’s at stake here:
For more than twenty years, courts have ruled that incarcerated women retain their abortion rights, and yet for all those twenty years, jails and prisons have continued to violate those rights. Across the country, women have been told by sheriffs to get a judgeâ€™s permission, something that takes time, money, and the services of a lawyer. Women are routinely told that they must pay not only for the abortion, but for the costs of employeesâ€™ time and of transportation, down to turnpike tolls, even though people in prison have a constitutional right to medical care. In many cases, these requirements are unwritten and ad-hoc, reflecting the whim of local officials. From California to New York, from Louisiana to Pennsylvania, women have wound up carrying pregnancies to term because jail officials stood in their way until it was too late to have an abortion â€“ or until they gave up.
Every woman has a lot to think about when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, but for women inside, the question takes on special urgency. Women may be concerned about the kind of prenatal care they will receive in prison and worried about what the future holds. Those facing long prison sentences may find the prospect of having a child unbearable. A woman serving as little as fifteen months can lose her parental rights if she has to place her child in foster care, even if she has never been accused of child abuse or neglect.
I’d add that if the state of Missouri regularly transports incarcerated women as many as three hours off-site to take the State Board of Cosmetology exam, the legislature don’t have grounds to complain about transporting them that far for abortion care. If they’re worried about the cost of gas, the state legislators could always consider rolling back some of the TRAP laws that make it cost-prohibitive for abortion providers to open clinics in more counties. (Riiiight….)