Alabama prisoner, in court documents, drops bid for abortion

AP News
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Posted: Jul 29, 2015 9:11 PM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama prisoner who went to federal court seeking an abortion filed a court document Wednesday saying she'd changed her mind and wanted to give birth, after the state had sought to prevent her from undergoing the procedure.

The sworn statement, filed on behalf of a woman identified only as Jane Doe, didn't say whether the state's action resulted in the change of heart. In the document, the woman said she made the decision on her own without any "undue influence, duress, or threat of harm."

"After much consideration and counsel, I ... have decided that I no longer desire to pursue an abortion procedure and intend to carry the unborn child to full term and birth," she said in the statement.

The document was filed by Maurice McCaney, an attorney appointed to represent the woman in juvenile court, where the state had petitioned court authorities to strip the pregnant prisoner of parental rights in order to prevent her from obtaining an abortion.

McCaney didn't immediately return a message seeking comment. Neither did Randall Marshall, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented the woman in the federal lawsuit seeking an abortion.

The Lauderdale County prisoner had originally filed a federal lawsuit last week against a local sheriff, seeking a court order that would clear the way for an abortion. A federal judge had said he would rule by Friday on her request.

In the meantime, the state had sought to terminate her parental rights over the unborn child.

Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly recently said the prisoner in question would be stripped of her legal standing to seek an abortion if the court took away her parental rights. Connolly said via email that he filed the request on the state's behalf.

The woman, who filed suit July 20 against Sheriff Rick Singleton, said in the earlier court documents that she was unable to obtain an abortion before going to jail, and denying her one violates her constitutional rights. Court papers do not say why the woman is in custody or provide any personal information about her, but Connolly said she is an adult. A court-appointed attorney was named to act as guardian for the fetus.

The woman, who is in her first trimester of pregnancy, had at the time urged a federal judge to order the county to let her leave jail to have an abortion that she planned to pay for privately. Her ACLU attorney, Marshall, had said a federal court ruling in favor of the woman would trump an attempt by the state to stop her from having the procedure.

Singleton argued that letting the woman leave jail for an abortion outside would present a security risk. He also argued that she failed to follow proper procedure for seeking outside medical treatment.

Heather Fann, the head of the Alabama State Bar Association's family law section, called the state's bid to take away a pregnant woman's parental rights "absurd."

"The entire concept flies in the face of what we are set up to do," said Fann, of Birmingham, who has practiced family law for nearly a decade and is not involved in the case. She said any court ruling taking away the woman's parental rights could open a new door for abortion opponents seeking to prevent women from ending pregnancies.

"If this were to happen you've got one judge and one lawyer making all the decisions for a woman," Fann said.