The U.S. Supreme Court late Friday temporarily blocked a federal judge’s ruling that ordered Missouri prison officials to drive a pregnant inmate to a clinic on Saturday for an abortion.
Justice Clarence Thomas, acting alone, granted the temporary stay pending a further decision by himself or the full court.
Missouri state law forbids spending tax dollars to facilitate an abortion. However, U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple ruled Thursday that the prison system was blocking the woman from exercising her right to an abortion and ordered that the woman be taken to the clinic Saturday.
An appeals court on Friday refused to stay the ruling.
The woman, whose name was not disclosed in court papers, has said she will borrow money for the abortion from friends and family but cannot afford to pay for transportation.
Use of public funds prohibited
Under a policy adopted in July, Missouri’s prison system does not provide transportation or security for inmates seeking abortions. The policy is based on a state law that prohibits the spending of public funds “for the purpose of performing or assisting an abortion not necessary to save the life of the mother.”
State officials argued that their policy is reasonable because of the costs and security risks of transporting inmates outside for procedures the officials said are not medically necessary.
The state estimated it would cost $350 plus fuel for two guards to accompany the woman on the 80-mile trip from her cell in Vandalia to a St. Louis clinic.
“It is not the prison that has imposed the burden, but the prisoner’s violation of the law that resulted in her incarceration that has imposed the burden,” Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office said.
Time grows short for legal abortion
The woman’s attorney, James Felakos of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in court papers that the woman is running out of time because she is 16 weeks to 17 weeks pregnant, and Missouri bars abortions after 22 weeks.
In court papers, the woman said she discovered she was pregnant shortly after being arrested in California in July on a Missouri parole violation. She said she tried to get an abortion in California but was transferred back to Missouri before it could be performed.
Justice Thomas handles appeals from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Missouri. He could lift the stay over the weekend, after reviewing more legal arguments.
It is not uncommon for the Supreme Court to issue temporary stays that give both sides time to file more arguments.