National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

ACLU Sues Calif. Sheriff Over Forced Pregnancy Tests at Jails

ACLU Sues Calif. Sheriff Over Forced Pregnancy Tests at Jails

June 4, 2014 — Three women sued a California sheriff on Monday for being forced to undergo pregnancy tests at Alameda County jails, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Alameda County is the only county in California that requires the test for female inmates. The Chronicle names two of the plaintiffs, both of whom were arrested during political protests and later released without charges.

Lawsuit Details

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on the women's behalf in Alameda County Superior Court against Sheriff Greg Ahern. It alleges that requiring pregnancy tests violates privacy rights under the state and U.S. constitutions, as well as a state law that allows inmates to refuse medical care in non-emergencies.

According to the Chronicle, the plaintiffs are not seeking damages but want a court order that halts the policy. The suit argues that the policy "publicly intrudes into one of the most intimate and private areas of a person's life -- reproductive decision-making."

ACLU said the proper approach would be to offer inmates voluntary pregnancy tests, a policy followed by some other California counties.

Sheriff's Explanation

Ahern in a 2010 letter to an ACLU lawyer said that all women who are brought to the Glenn Dyer jail, where at least one of the plaintiffs was held, are tested "so that we can provide the essential medical necessities needed by pregnant women in our care and custody." Women are transferred to the main county jail, which has an obstetrics clinic, if they are pregnant, he said.

J.D. Nelson, a spokesperson for the sheriff, said the Sheriff's Office has been sued previously for not conducting pregnancy tests. The test became mandatory when that suit was settled about 10 years ago, he said (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/2).