The state of Missouri must provide transportation to clinics for inmates who want to have an abortion, a federal appeals panel ruled Tuesday.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state had to allow a specific inmate, listed as Jane Roe, to have an abortion after the state tried to end the practice of driving prisoners to clinics for elective abortions.
The American Civil Liberties Union then sought a federal ruling making the high court's decision a class-action on behalf of all imprisoned pregnant women in the state.
U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple ruled in 2006 that the state must allow pregnant inmates to have abortions and take them to facilities that perform the procedure. Tuesday's decision by the three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the lower court ruling.
"The court recognized that the right to elect to have an abortion survives incarceration," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union's St. Louis office. "This was about providing women with the opportunity to exercise their choice even though they were incarcerated."
It wasn't clear whether the state would appeal. A spokesman for Attorney General Jay Nixon said the decision was still being reviewed with the Corrections Department.
Ruling on 35th anniversary
Gov. Matt Blunt called the ruling disappointing and noted that Missouri law prohibits the use of state tax money to pay for abortions.
"Over the last three years, we have made positive changes in Missouri and enacted laws that reflect our profound respect for the inherent dignity of each and every life," Blunt said. "I am hopeful and prayerful that we can further protect life by enhancing our laws to defend the dignity of human life."
The ruling came on the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, which established a nationwide right to abortion.
At a hearing in September, attorneys for the state argued security concerns and the state's limited resources outweighed a female offender's right to an abortion. Inmates are denied certain freedoms, including "the right to procreate, vote and travel," Assistant Attorney General Michael Pritchett told the panel at the time.
But the ACLU said the state exaggerated its security concerns and has shown an ability to safely transport inmates to an abortion clinic in St. Louis despite the presence of protesters.
Since July 2005, seven Missouri inmates have had abortions, Corrections Department spokesman Brian Hauswirth said. All were elective procedures.