Reproductive Health Services is shown in Montgomery, Ala. on Jul. 30, 2014.  
Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP

The tug of war over a jailed Alabama woman’s pregnancy

Updated

An Alabama woman who sued in federal court to leave jail for a first-trimester abortion, and who faced the termination of her parental rights in response, has now signed an affidavit with a new lawyer saying she no longer wants the procedure. The news has come as a surprise to her prior attorneys, who have been helping her access an abortion, and who say they have not yet spoken to their client. 

“After much consideration and counsel, I have decided that I no longer desire to pursue an abortion procedure and intend to carry the unborn child to full term and birth,” the affidavit reads in part. It was filed on Wednesday night by a new attorney, Maurice McCaney, who was court-appointed to defend the woman when the county attorney moved to terminate her parental rights.

The woman is known as Jane Doe and is being detained in Florence, Alabama, for charges that have been publicly withheld to respect her privacy. 

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“This lawsuit is about Jane Doe’s constitutional right to make her own determination regarding her pregnancy rather than the state, a state court judge, the district attorney, or the sheriff,” said Randall Marshall, legal director of the ACLU of Alabama, who was representing Jane Doe in her petition to leave the jail for an abortion. “If this is truly her decision, it must be respected. However, the circumstances under which this affidavit was obtained are highly suspicious and we are in the process of trying to determine Ms. Doe’s true wishes.” 

“If this is truly her decision, it must be respected. However, the circumstances under which this affidavit was obtained are highly suspicious …”
Randall Marshall, legal director of the ACLU of Alabama

Brigitte Amiri, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project who is also working on the case, told msnbc, “Our concern is that this has come quickly and has come quite contrary to her strong desire, expressed multiple times, that she obtain an abortion.” The meeting that resulted in the affidavit came as Elizabeth Berry, a criminal defense attorney who has worked most closely with Jane Doe in Florence, was traveling. 

McCaney declined to comment further to msnbc, citing his client’s privacy, but did confirm that he is the same person listed as chancellor of Victory Christian Academy. The affidavit makes repeated mention of the phrase “unborn child” and says, “I have arrived at this decision of my own volition and choosing without any promise of present and/or future consideration and without any undue influence, duress, or threat of harm.”

A federal judge was expected to rule by tomorrow on Jane Doe’s request to have an abortion in Huntsville, about two hours from Florence. Initially, the sheriff informed Jane Doe that she could only leave the jail for an abortion with a court order, citing jail policy. But when the county attorney got involved, a different rationale was offered.

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District attorney Chris Connolly moved earlier this week to terminate Jane Doe’s parental rights, apparently to block her from having an abortion. To reporters, he cited an Alabama Supreme Court decision that allowed pregnant women to be charged under chemical endangerment laws, and contrary to the wishes of Jane Doe’s attorneys to keep her charges private, said she faced such a charge. Marshall told msnbc that the Supreme Court decision didn’t apply, because that opinion concerned only post-viability fetuses, and the woman has a constitutional right to end her pregnancy before viability. 

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen government officials go to these length to force a woman to carry her pregnancy to term.”
Brigitte Amiri, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project attorney
The person who answered the phone at the Lauderdale County District Attorney’s office said Connolly was in grand jury proceedings all week and unavailable to speak. 

In filings filed in federal court on July 20, the ACLU wrote on behalf of Jane Doe, “As the United States Supreme Court has made clear, a woman has a fundamental right to decide whether or not to bear a child. This right survives incarceration.”

A hearing in the motion to terminate Doe’s parental rights was supposed to take place Friday in juvenile court. McCaney declined to say whether it would proceed, and why the proceeding was in juvenile court, since the woman is not a minor. He also declined to say the status of the move to terminate Doe’s parental rights now that she appears to no longer want to terminate her pregnancy. 

Another attorney, Melinda Morgan Austin, has been appointed as the guardian of Doe’s fetus. Alabama has a law allowing a court to appoint a guardian for the fetus when a minor seeks a judicial bypass, the constitutionality of which the ACLU is already challenging. 

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen government officials go to these lengths to force a woman to carry her pregnancy to term,” said Amiri.

Update: The federal judge in the case has set a hearing with Jane Doe herself for Friday morning, Amiri told msnbc. 

Abortion and Reproductive Rights

The tug of war over a jailed Alabama woman's pregnancy

Updated