AG investigation: Jail denied inmate an abortion for weeks

Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 11:31 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Officials at the Jefferson County jail denied reproductive health care to a pregnant inmate for weeks.

That’s the finding of an investigation by the New York state Attorney General Letitia James’ office.

The investigation showed that the woman, who was incarcerated on August 18, 2022, was not given a pregnancy test in her initial medical screening, something that’s required under state law.

The woman, identified only as KM, found out she was pregnant during a sick call on October 25.

That’s when she told jail staff she wanted an abortion.

The abortion, according to the attorney general’s findings, was delayed by jail staff until almost a month after KM requested it.

Abortion procedures were scheduled for November 7 and November 14 and were canceled without any reason given.

KM, according to the attorney general’s report, was pressured to not have the abortion and was told by a jail sergeant that the jail did not want to pay for the procedure.

At this point, KM was 21 weeks pregnant. State law allows abortions up to 24 weeks without requiring a medical reason for terminating a pregnancy, such as a fetus that’s not viable or a condition that threatens the life or health of the mother.

KM received abortion care on November 21 and 22, 27 days after she requested it and about two weeks after the first canceled appointment.

Colleen O’Neill was sheriff at the time. She declined to comment. The sheriff’s office runs the jail.

Current Sheriff Peter Barnett signed an agreement with the AG’s office that the jail would develop policies and procedures in line with state laws, including a pregnancy test when an inmate is jailed and providing appropriate reproductive health care.

Barnett could not be reached for comment.

The jail’s leadership must finalize its policies by December and the state will be watching how things go for the next 5 years.