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ACLU request for inmate abortion policy riles Westmoreland controller

| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 8:21 a.m.

Westmoreland County Controller Jeff Balzer on Monday blasted an effort by the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure jail inmates can get free abortions.

“This is exactly who people are talking about who say they don't want their government paying for abortions. I don't think the government should pay for abortions. There is nobody who voted for me who would say it's OK to pay for abortions,” Balzer said. “You're killing somebody when they are in prison.” Balzer's comments were made during a meeting of the county's prison board, where members learned of a letter sent from the ACLU that asked the county to formally draft a policy granting abortion rights for pregnant inmates.

Alexandra T. Morgan-Kurtz, legal fellow for the ACLU in Pittsburgh, said counties throughout Pennsylvania were asked to provide details about policies regarding abortions.

Westmoreland County has no formal policy, she said.

“A woman doesn't lose her rights when she goes into prison,” Morgan-Kurtz said.

U.S. law requires jails to provide pregnant inmates with counseling as well as access to abortions if that option is chosen, according to the ACLU.

If an inmate cannot afford the procedure, the county must pay the cost of the abortion, Morgan-Kurtz said. Costs for an in-clinic abortion range from about $300 to $950 in the first trimester, according to the Planned Parenthood website.

The ACLU also wants counties to provide female inmates with pregnancy tests upon entering the jail.

Balzer said he's not opposed to the county formulating a policy as to abortion rights of inmates, but he opposed having the county pay for the procedures.

“It's a slap in the face to every person who thinks government shouldn't pay for abortions,” Balzer said.

Abortions have not been an issue at the county jail, according to Warden John Walton.

Pregnant inmates receive counseling from the jail's medical provider. No inmate has asked for an abortion in the past 10 years, Walton said.

During that time period, only a few inmates have given birth while in custody.

“We know inmates can't be denied an abortion even if they can't pay for it,” Walton said.

Commissioner Charles Anderson said the county is crafting a formal response to the ACLU.

“There is our personal positions and there is the law, and we all know our hands are tied. We will say we will uphold the law whether we like it or not,” Anderson said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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