Warden: Policy exists on inmate abortion in Westmoreland County Prison

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The Westmoreland County Prison will not create or update its policies regarding access to abortion for pregnant inmates, despite a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania asking the prison to create a policy, the warden said this week.

The ACLU sent a letter to Westmoreland County's solicitor earlier this month stating that a Right-to-Know Law request found no evidence of "written policies addressing the needs of pregnant inmates or the provision of abortion services." The letter asked that the prison create "a policy that ensures that all women receive counseling about their options following a positive pregnancy test and timely access to abortion services."

But Warden John Walton said the prison has a policy through an agreement with Wexford Health Sources Inc., which contracts with cities, counties and states to provide medical care for inmates.

"I don't know where they got that we don't have a policy," he said.

Mr. Walton said that although the prison doesn't have an in-house policy, pregnant inmates would have access to abortion services, and if the woman is unable to afford the procedure, the prison would pay for it. Though the ACLU encourages prisons to administer pregnancy tests upon admission, Mr. Walton said the prison won't do that.

"We will be drafting a letter to the ACLU telling them what we think we're doing on our end, and again, they have no standing" regarding what the jail should put in its policy, Mr. Walton said.

Alexandra T. Morgan-Kurtz, a legal fellow with the ACLU, said if the policy with Wexford Health is as the warden describes, it would be sufficient.

"As far as the testing of pregnant inmates, unfortunately there's not a legal requirement for that," she said, but called pregnancy tests "one of the many necessary steps [to ensure] the well being of any female inmate. "

The prison houses about 80 women on average, Mr. Walton said. He said there have been about 26 women in the past 10 years who have been pregnant while incarcerated, none of whom sought an abortion.

Westmoreland County Controller Jeff Balzer has spoken out against the ACLU's recommendation, saying his constituents don't want to pay for abortions with tax dollars.

"I just don't think it's right," he said, adding his office has no authority to prevent the prison from paying for abortions.

"No matter what our personal positions regarding [abortion], we'll follow the law," Mr. Walton said.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Annie Siebert: asiebert@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.


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