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ACLU Sues To Stop Mandatory Pregnancy Tests In Alameda County Jails

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HAYWARD (CBS SF) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California filed a lawsuit Monday against the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office over a policy requiring all women booked into Alameda County jails who are younger than 60 to submit to a pregnancy test.

According to the lawsuit, women cannot refuse the testing. The policy even applies to women who will stay at the jail for only a few hours and women who cannot be pregnant.

In a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, the group alleges that 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 (of) California’s prisons and jails, has the legal right to refuse medical care.”

The ACLU said that a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Oakland resident Nancy Mancias was arrested during a political demonstration and forced to take a pregnancy test while held at a jail in Alameda County.

Plaintiff Susan Harman, at the age of 69, was also arrested at a political demonstration and was required to submit a pregnancy test at Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility, according to the lawsuit.

A third plaintiff, identified only as Jane Doe, is also being represented in the lawsuit.

Elizabeth Gill a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California said that mandatory pregnancy testing should be replaced with voluntary pregnancy tests.

Gill said that if the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office “is genuinely concerned about the health of women in their custody, voluntary pregnancy testing should be administered as part of a comprehensive health exam.”

“Forcing a woman to take a pregnancy test is a clear violation of a person’s constitutional rights, as well as a violation of other state law.”

In a 2010 letter written by Alameda County Sheriff Gregory J. Ahern addressed to the ACLU regarding the policy, he writes “Our accredited medical personnel conduct the pregnancy tests so that we can provide the essential medical necessities needed by pregnant women in our care and custody.”

Ahern said the pregnancy test allows the staff to expedite the booking process for pregnant women or transfer them to another jail where there is an obstetrics and gynecology clinic.

The ACLU of Northern California filed the lawsuit in the Alameda County Superior Court Monday with pro bono assistance from the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.

Christine Haskett, the attorney with Covington & Burling LLP who is representing the plaintiffs said “Violating a woman’s right to privacy like this is both unconstitutional and illogical, particularly as arrestees are not forced to take many other types of medical screening tests.”

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