The Supreme Court today rejected the state of Missouri's attempt to stop a prison inmate from obtaining an abortion.
The court acted without dissent or comment as it let stand a U.S. District Court judge's order requiring the state to transport the woman for her abortion on the grounds that it was denying her rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Justice Clarence Thomas had stayed the lower court order last week in response to a plea from Missouri, citing a state law banning public financing of abortions.
The procedure itself is being financed by various pro-choice organizations, including Planned Parenthood, but the state said it would have to provide guards and transportation for her.
The Supreme Court does not issue vote counts when it acts on stays of lower court orders, so it was not possible to determine how Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. voted in the matter. Nor does the court's action constitute an endorsement of the lower court's holding or set any precedent.
The inmate, called Jane Roe for purposes of concealing her identity, has been held at Vandalia prison in Missouri since Aug. 22 and is 16 to 17 weeks pregnant, according to court records reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She is in her twenties, serving a four-year term for violating parole, according to official documents.
Prison officials have blocked her request for weeks, citing a three- to four-month-old policy that also bars state money for prisoner trips to funerals and the bedsides of sick relatives.
"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," Missouri Assistant Attorney General Michael Pritchett stated in court documents.
"And, even if the result were plaintiff carrying her child to term, it ought not be held that this result -- having a child -- is a harm at all, much less an irreparable one," he argued.