Three women have filed a lawsuit against the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in California, saying they were forced to take pregnancy tests while being booked into the county jail. The sheriff’s office said the testing is standard procedure when processing female inmates. However, the women argue that the county violated their constitutional rights.
Sergeant J.D. Nelson said the testing is the result of a prior lawsuit. In the previous lawsuit, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office was sued for failing to conduct pregnancy tests on inmates. Although they eventually reached a settlement, the sheriff’s office agreed to test all female inmates upon booking.
Nelson said the sheriff’s office is simply following through with a prior agreement. He also said the testing is done in the best interest of the inmates, as those who are pregnant are transferred to a specialized unit.
Norther California ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill disagrees. As reported by Huffington Post, Gill agrees that the women should be given the option of taking a pregnancy test. However, she is concerned that the tests are being forced against the inmates’ will:
“… 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.”
As stated in the lawsuit, the women are not seeking monetary damages. They simply want the sheriff’s office to stop forcing female inmates to take pregnancy tests.
Susan Harman is named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit; at age 69, she was arrested during a political protest. As reported by SF Gate, she said the pregnancy test was unnecessary and humiliating:
“To know whether or not you’re pregnant is very intimate and personal, and something that a woman would want to discuss with her loved ones and her doctor. Not with some matron in a jail.”
Although Harman was tested at age 69, the jail eventually modified their policy to include all female inmates under the age of 60.
Nancy Mancias is also listed as one of the plaintiffs. She said the testing was “invasive, offensive, and humiliating.” For Mancias, the testing was specifically difficult, as she and her husband are unable to conceive.
Despite the criticism, county officials contend mandatory pregnancy testing is in the best interest of the women. The plaintiffs simply want the female inmates to have a choice.
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