The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California sued the Alameda County Sheriff's Office on Monday over a policy that requires every woman in its custody younger than 60 to submit to a pregnancy test — a practice the ACLU says violates women's right to privacy and amounts to unlawful search.
"We wrote the jail a few years back now," Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in an interview. "And they just haven't given us a good answer. They refused to change."
Gill said that this lawsuit is the first of its kind in the state of California.
Alameda County Sheriff's spokesperson Sgt. J.D. Nelson said the department has not yet been served the lawsuit.
The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, was filed on behalf of three women — one who was demonstrating at Oscar Grant protest, a political activist and a "Jane Doe" who was arrested after a traffic stop last month.
Gill contends that the pregnancy testing policy violates both arrestees’ constitutional rights and state law, under which every person, including those in the custody of California’s prisons and jails, has the legal right to refuse medical care.
The pregnancy tests administered to women in custody don't seem to be related to providing healthcare, Gill said, and women are not allowed to refuse the tests.
In San Francisco, women who are arrested are given the option to take a pregnancy test as a part of a broader medical screening but can decline after meeting with a medical professional, according to the ACLU.
“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,” Gill said. “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.”
The ACLU of Northern California filed the suit with pro bono assistance from the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.