JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Corrections Department announced Monday that it will transport a female prisoner to receive an abortion despite Missouri law prohibiting taxpayers to cover the cost of such a trip.
The announcement came after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a temporary stay Monday morning that denied the inmate access to transportation in order to receive an abortion -- backing up the U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple's ruling who said the Missouri policy violates the prisoner's rights. Justice Clarence Thomas put the temporary stay on Whipple's ruling Friday, but now carries no weight.
Public Information Officer John Fougere said, "As a law enforcement agency, we always follow the law - so we will be complying with the court order in this situation and transporting the inmate for the procedure."
Fougere declined to comment about when the abortion will take place because of public safety and medical confidentiality reasons.
The new policy of the department was enacted on July 19, 2005 after the department was taken to task by Missouri lawmakers during the appropriations process according to Fougere.
Fougere said the department stands behind its current policy. "This is a sound policy. We believe transporting Missouri inmates for this elective procedure violates Missouri statue and it has operations and security concerns," said Fougere.
Since 1997, seven prisoners have been transported in order to receive an abortion -- each trip costing approximately $350. The costs include fuel expenses and the salaries of two custody officers required to carry out the transportation.
Jessica Robinson, spokesperson for Governor Matt Blunt, said the governor was not involved in making the policy, but does wholeheartedly support the department's decision. "The governor is very disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision to lift the stay. This is a decision that goes against Missouri law," Robinson said.
Further, the governor does not see the ruling as a invalidation of the law according to Robinson. "This is a law the governor believes is valuable to our state and that represents the traditional values that Missourians hold very dear," Robinson said.
James Felakos and Thomas Blumenthal of the American Civil Liberties Union and the attorney for the female inmate said they applaud the Supreme Court ruling. "We are extremely pleased with the Supreme Court's decision to let the District Court's ruling stand and allow our client access to constitutionally protected reproductive health services," Felakos said.
The attorney now is working to make sure the procedure actual occurs. "The first thing we are concerned with is that the procedure actual takes place. Once we are confident that has been accomplished, we will pursue a more complete order from the district court finding that this regulation is unconstitional," Felakos said.
Fougere from the Corrections Department said that he was unaware of any other female inmates seeking an abortion and would not speculate about future transportation for such purposes.
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