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Blunt pushes new policy on inmate abortions

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt's administration is pushing ahead with its legal defense of a new policy effectively prohibiting most inmate abortions, despite a Supreme Court decision specifically allowing one Missouri inmate to get an abortion.

A starting point

A Blunt spokesman said Tuesday that the governor views the court decision as a starting point -- not an end -- to the legal battle over whether the Department of Corrections must spend time and money taking inmates to abortion clinics.

A recent policy change backed by Blunt deleted long-standing procedures for facilitating inmate abortions, leaving an exception only if a woman's life or health is endangered.

The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple, who ordered the state to transport an unidentified inmate from her cell in Vandalia to an abortion clinic. Whipple gave the department until the end of this week to act.

Corrections Department director Larry Crawford said the state would comply with the order but would "vigorously defend our policy" from being struck down. No schedule has been set yet for court arguments on a permanent injunction.

Blunt's administration could have chosen to drop its defense of the policy in light of the Supreme Court decision. But continuing the battle could help Blunt's efforts to patch up relationships with part of Missouri's powerful pro-life movement, some members of which have criticized Blunt for his support for early stem cell research.

"It puts him in a position where he can continue to earn the support of right-to-lifers, regardless of his position on stem cells," said David Webber, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The Senate's top Democrat, who is pro-choice, accused Blunt's administration of dragging out the legal battle for political advantage.

"We just wrapped up a special session to particularly deal with abortion legislation, and this provides more of an opportunity for the governor and those who are against abortions to get some more play out of this issue," said Sen. Maida Coleman, of St. Louis.

'Not a consideration'

But Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson said "politics is not a consideration."

"The Supreme Court did not rule on the policy itself, nor has any court heard any deliberation on the policy itself," Jackson said. "We see that [preliminary injunction] as a starting point in this process and not as an ending."

Crawford, a former Republican lawmaker who became department director this year, said politics had nothing to do with why he changed a policy that dated since at least 1992. He said he did so because the Senate appropriations committee chairman raised concerns about transporting inmates for abortions -- something that had been done seven times since 1997.

Missouri law

A Missouri law prohibits public funds from being spent to perform or assist with an abortion, except to save a woman's life.

The new Department of Corrections policy officially took effect Sept. 5 -- a day before lawmakers convened in a special session called by Blunt to enact other abortion restrictions.

Blunt called the session because similar abortion bills had faltered during the regular session that ended in May. That hang-up was due partly to a clash between Blunt and Missouri Right to Life, which had tried to ban a certain kind of embryonic stem-cell research that Blunt supports.

Although Blunt and the pro-life lobby joined to support the special session legislation, their divisions were highlighted again last week when Blunt backed a proposed constitutional amendment specifically allowing the stem cell research that some pro-life activists want to ban.


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