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January 22, 2008

Prisoner rights meet abortion rights

I often tell my students that one of the many joys of obsessing over sentencing and corrections is that every other area of law finds its way to this arena.  Thus, fittingly, on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Eighth Circuit today in Roe v. Crawford (available here) strikes down a Missouri rule essentially prohibiting elective abortions for female prisoners.  Here is how the opinion starts:

The Missouri Department of Corrections (MDC) instituted a policy of prohibiting transportation for elective, non-therapeutic abortions (MDC policy). Plaintiff Jane Roe (Roe) requested transportation for an elective abortion, and was denied.  The district court granted Roe’s request for emergency preliminary injunctive relief, and ordered the MDC to provide Roe with transportation outside of the MDC facility (referred to by the parties as an “outcount”).  Roe amended her complaint and sought injunctive relief on behalf of a class consisting of all women in the custody of the MDC who seek elective, non-therapeutic abortions.  The district court certified the class (Plaintiffs).  Both parties moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted in favor of the Plaintiffs.  The district court reasoned the MDC policy is unreasonable under the Fourteenth Amendment using the four-part test established by Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-91 (1987) for reviewing the reasonableness of prison regulations impacting constitutional rights.  The district court also found the Plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment rights were violated, determining that the desire for an elective abortion constitutes a serious medical need to which the MDC officials were deliberately indifferent.  On appeal, the MDC contests both findings.  Although we conclude the district court erred in its Eighth Amendment analysis, and on one aspect of the Turner analysis, we affirm the ultimate judgment.

January 22, 2008 at 04:25 PM | Permalink

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