Alameda County Sheriff Stops Mandatory Pregnancy Tests Following ACLU Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Northern California sheriff's office will no longer require women arrested and booked into the county jail to undergo a pregnancy test under the terms of a settlement announced on Wednesday.

As part of the settlement, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office also agreed to inform inmates that the test is optional and have any tests that are requested performed by medical staff, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said.

The group challenged the testing requirement in a lawsuit last year against the sheriff's office on behalf of women who said it was humiliating, invasive and offensive. The urine test was required of women under the age of 60, though one of the women who sued was 69 when she took it, said Phyllida Burlingame, reproductive justice policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

A judge had required the test in response to a lawsuit alleging women inmates were not receiving adequate prenatal care, Sheriff's Sgt. J.D. Nelson said. The county's goal was to protect women's reproductive health.

Burlingame said the goal was laudable, but the county went too far. "People in custody have a right to decide what types of medical care and testing they want to submit to," she said.

San Francisco has an optional pregnancy testing policy, and the ACLU has not confirmed that any other counties in California are requiring the test, Burlingame said.

Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a June 2014 interview, when the suit was filed that it was the first of its kind in the state of California.

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. Those women are:

  • Susan Harman, 69, was arrested in July 2010 during an Oscar Grant political demonstration in Oakland and was taken to jail. She is a diabetic and never got insulin, though she did receive a pregnancy test, the lawsuit alleged. She was never charged with a crime, and never told of her pregnancy status, according to the suit.
  • Nancy Mancias was also arrested at political demonstration in 2012 and was given a pregnancy test, the lawsuit alleged. Mancias said she was even more embarrassed because she had tried to become pregnant but been unable to do so. She said in the suit that she found the compulsory test "inappropriate" and "invasive."
  • An anonymous woman identified as Jane Doe was given a pregnancy test on a charge of obstructing a peace officer during a traffic stop last month, according to the suit. She has two children and knew she was not pregnant, the suit alleged.

NBC Bay Area's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.

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