California Sheriff Sued for Forcing Women to Take Pregnancy Tests

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A sheriff’s department in Northern California has been hit with a civil lawsuit over a controversial program in which female inmates are subjected to mandatory pregnancy tests.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of one woman who was forced to take a pregnancy test while in the custody of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.

Department policy states that all female inmates who are under the age of 60 and in custody at Alameda County jails are subjected to the mandatory pregnancy test, according to the lawsuit.

“It does not appear to be related to providing appropriate health care to women in the jails: it applies to women who will stay at the jail for only a few hours, and it applies to women who cannot be pregnant,” the ACLU wrote in its complaint. “Women are not permitted to refuse the testing.”

The policy “is both a violation of arrestees’ constitutional rights and in violation of a state law, which says that every person, including those in the custody California’s prisons and jails, has the legal right to refuse medical care,” the ACLU says.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU draws upon a similar policy in place in neighboring San Francisco County. According to that policy, women in custody are asked to take a pregnancy test, but may refuse to submit to a test after they meet with a medical professional.

“If the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department is genuinely concerned about the health of women in their custody, voluntary pregnancy testing should be administered as part of a comprehensive health exam,” Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney for the Northern California Chapter of the ACLU, said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Oakland resident Nancy Mancias, an activist coordinator with the group CODE PINK. According to the ACLU, Mancias was arrested in August 2012 during a peaceful demonstration and subjected to a pregnancy test while being held at the county jail.

“Being forced to submit a pregnancy test against my will was not about my health,” Mancias said in a statement. “It was invasive, offensive, and humiliating.”

Also represented in the lawsuit is an unidentified woman who claims she was required to submit to a pregnancy test following an arrest for allegedly obstructing a police officer during a traffic stop in April.

According to a letter obtained by the ACLU in 2010 and submitted to the court as part of the lawsuit, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern acknowledged that “every female brought into our (jail) is required to submit to a pregnancy test through urinalysis.”

“Our accredited medical personnel conduct the pregnancy test so that we can provide the essential medical necessities needed by pregnant women in our care and custody,” Ahern wrote in the letter. “This information also allows staff to expedite the booking process for these individuals or transfer them to Santa Rita Jail where we house female inmates and have an OBGYN clinic.”

Neither woman represented in the suit were told about the results of their tests, according to court documents. Mancias was never charged with a crime stemming from her arrest, the complaint says.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department did not return a request from TheBlot Magazine seeking comment.

Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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