Nebraska Prison Inmate Sues For Right To Get Abortion

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska prison inmate sued the state corrections department Friday, saying she was denied her constitutional right to get an abortion.

The woman, identified as Jane Roe, asked a federal judge for an emergency order so she can get state-mandated counseling and an abortion at a Planned Parenthood in Lincoln by her scheduled appointment on Tuesday. She's a little more than 15 weeks pregnant and has been in prison since Feb. 18, serving a 26-month sentence at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, according to the lawsuit.

Planned Parenthood only offers abortions for women who are up to 16 1/2 weeks pregnant, according to the lawsuit.

“State officials are barring a woman from getting an abortion and forcing her to remain pregnant against her will,” said Scout Richters, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties of Nebraska, which filed the lawsuit on the inmate's behalf. “All of us, including our client, have the right to make our own decision about whether and when to become a parent."

The lawsuit alleges that Roe first asked her prison case manager for an abortion in late March, and her case manager told her she'd contact the warden. Roe filed a grievance a few days later, and was told on Thursday that her request had been denied, according to the lawsuit.

Brigitte Amiri, deputy director for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said every other court that has heard similar cases has ruled in favor of abortion rights for inmates. She pointed to a 2008 federal case in Missouri, where an appeals court declared that incarcerated women don't lose their right to an abortion while incarcerated.

“The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services' decision to prevent our client from accessing abortion is a blatant violation of the constitution,” Amiri said.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. The department reports to Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, an outspoken opponent of abortion.

Nebraska bars abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy except in cases where a woman's life is at risk. Only one other abortion provider in Nebraska offers abortions up to 21 weeks and six days. It's located in Omaha, and the inmate's attorneys noted that she would have to travel even farther from the York prison to get one.

According to the lawsuit, the inmate was initially told she wouldn't be able to get an abortion because there was a 21-day freeze policy on large amounts of money being placed in an inmate's prison account. The inmate was allegedly told that by the time the freeze was lifted, it would be too late to get an abortion.

But the lawsuit said the inmate worked out a payment plan with Planned Parenthood that would allow her to pay for the abortion without having to use her inmate account. The inmate's attorneys said they talked with prison officials several more times afterward, and were eventually told the request for an abortion had been denied.

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