Supreme Court Doesn't Bar Inmate's Abortion
By Charles Lane
The Washington Post
Washington - Issuing its first abortion-related decision under Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court refused yesterday to block the court-ordered transport of a prison inmate to a clinic for an abortion.
The court's two-sentence order capped days of litigation in which the woman, 16 weeks pregnant, battled a new Missouri policy forbidding prisons to assist women seeking to terminate pregnancies. The woman is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said she is running out of time because Missouri bars abortions after 22 weeks.
Late Friday, Justice Clarence Thomas intervened at the state's request to stop the transfer of the prisoner, referred to in the lawsuit as Jane Roe, to a Planned Parenthood office in St. Louis on Saturday. Over the weekend, he referred the case to the other eight justices, resulting in yesterday's decision.
The order came unaccompanied by a published opinion or recorded dissent, so there is no way to tell how many justices, if any, might have voted against the order.
In seeking emergency Supreme Court intervention, Missouri had asked Thomas to give "heavy consideration" to its policy of "discourag[ing] abortions and encourag[ing] childbirth." But the state had a heavy legal burden: to show it would face "irreparable harm" if it had to transport the woman. The state said it would lose the $350 cost of a day's prison-guard salaries and run the risk of an escape or injury to the prisoner, public or guards.
The federal district judge who ordered Roe transported for an abortion, Dean Whipple, said his ruling covered the Missouri policy only as it applied to her. He will hear arguments and decide the constitutionality of the policy later. That case could land in the Supreme Court.
Roe, originally convicted of methamphetamine possession, became pregnant before entering prison in Missouri. She was arrested in California in July on a parole violation. While jailed in California, she asked to be taken for an abortion but was transferred to Missouri before her request could be met. It was unclear when she would get the abortion.
Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, voiced disappointment, saying, "The decision is highly offensive to traditional Missouri values and is contrary to state law, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from being spent to facilitate abortions."