Alabama officials push to strip pregnant inmate of her parental rights before she even gives birth
A pregnant inmate in Lauderdale County, Alabama will go to court on Friday to stop state officials from revoking her parental rights, the Huffington Post reported.
“It appears to me that what the state is attempting to do is turn Jane Doe into a vessel, and control every aspect of her life, forcing her to give birth to a baby, which she has decided she does not want to do,” said attorney and ACLU of Alabama legal director Randall Marshall, who is representing the woman. “The case has certainly moved to this new dimension, but welcome to Alabama.”
The woman said she learned of the pregnancy before being arrested by local Sheriff Rick Singleton, and filed a request on July 10 for a temporary release so that she could have an abortion. Singleton denied the request three days later by arguing that she was seeking “non-emergency” services.
“It is the policy of this office that all non-emergency services are provided through our medical staff at the jail,” Singleton’s reply read “Your request cannot be handled by our staff and on its face, it does not constitute a medical emergency.”
The Birmingham News reported that she filed a federal lawsuit in response to obtain the release.
“Time is of the essence when seeking access to abortion,” the suit stated. “Not only do the risks and costs increase as the pregnancy progresses, but a woman’s right to abortion will evaporate altogether if she is pushed passed the legal limit for an abortion.”
However, according to the Florence Times-Daily, local District Attorney Chris Connolly filed the petition to strip the woman of her parental rights, saying that she was charged with chemical endangerment of a child.
Connolly’s argument cited a 2013 ruling by the state Supreme Court saying statutes regarding chemical endangerment also apply to fetuses. But as the Post noted, the law was originally written to punish parents who took their children into areas where illegal substances are produced.
Officials have also appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the fetus during the hearing, under the auspices of a law passed last July. The practice was highlighted by The Daily Show this past January, with state ACLU director Susan Watson calling it a way for the state to “run out the clock” and force women to give birth.
Marshall told the News that he believed this was the first time a district attorney had tried to strip a woman of her parental rights before she even gave birth, and called the appointment of the guardian “nonsense” from a legal standpoint.
“Does the guardian ad litem say what food she eats, what vitamins she takes, what exercise she does and every other decision regarding the fetus?” he asked.
Watch a report on the case, as aired on WSMV-TV, below.
[h/t Think Progress]