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Missouri to appeal ruling in inmate abortion case

Thursday, August 17, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Attorney General Jay Nixon said Wednesday that he will appeal a federal court ruling requiring the state to take pregnant inmates to abortion clinics when they request the procedure.

U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple of Kansas City concluded last month that a relatively new Missouri policy against transporting inmates for abortions violated constitutional safeguards for due process and against cruel and unusual punishment.

Nixon filed a notice of appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Spokesman John Fougere said the appeal will be grounded on a 1986 Missouri law prohibiting the use of public funds, facilities and employees to assist an abortion when it's not necessary to save the life of the woman.

Whipple rejected a similar argument in his July 18 ruling.

"This case simply does not concern state subsidization of abortion services," Whipple wrote.

The judge cited a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling "holding explicitly that Missouri law prohibiting the use of Missouri state funds to assist with an abortion does not encompass transport to the location where the procedure is to take place."

A state Department of Corrections policy on the health care of pregnant inmates, which took effect in June 1992, specifically stated that the government would pay to transport an inmate for an abortion, although it would not pay for the abortion itself.

But the department reversed that policy in July 2005, citing costs, security concerns and the 1986 state law. Under the revised policy, the department would only transport an inmate for an abortion if her life or health were endangered.

Whipple ordered the state to transport a pregnant inmate -- referred to in court as Jane Roe -- to receive an abortion last October, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. The case then was categorized as a class action, leading to Whipple's ruling last month that would allow any Missouri inmate to receive an abortion.

While that decision is appealed, the attorneys who handled the class-action lawsuit already are sparring with the state over how much money they should receive.

The plantiffs' attorneys -- citing hourly billing rates of up to $350 -- filed court requests earlier this month to recoup roughly $200,000 in fees and costs from the state.

Nixon's office filed a court reply Wednesday saying the request was premature because of the appeal and was poorly documented and excessive. If the attorneys are awarded money from the state, they should get only around $45,000 for their fees and costs, Nixon's office said.

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