Inmate with mental illness must be stable before judge decides abortion request

From, July 7, 2011

A pregnant Portland woman jailed in Yamhill County who requested to be temporarily let out of jail to get an abortion is a step closer to getting the procedure.

READ – Inmate denied furlough for abortion, Yamhill Valley News Register, July 3, 2011

But on Wednesday, Yamhill County Circuit Court Judge John Collins ordered that Bridget Burkholder, 23, be stabilized at an intensive care facility before he decides whether she can get the abortion.

Burkholder is being held in the Yamhill County Jail while awaiting trial for attempted arson, criminal mischief and three lesser charges. Her bail was set at $65,000, requiring a $6,500 payment for release.

She will now be evaluated by mental health professionals to determine if she’s competent to make the decision to have the abortion.

Burkholder’s lawyer, Abraham Hanson, told KATU News that Collins said she must have the mindset to make an informed decision, and he said he didn’t think she was able to do so right now.

Hanson said if she isn’t stabilized by Yamhill County mental health workers he would likely move her to the state hospital.

He said Burkholder doesn’t have the money to post bail; instead, he said Burkholder requested a medical furlough to get the procedure.

Hanson said Sheriff Jack Crabtree did not allow Burkholder to leave jail, so Hanson brought the matter to court.

But the judge didn’t consider the motion to require Crabtree to take Burkholder to an abortion clinic, and Hanson said it’s a moot point for the time being. He said he felt the issue would not be resolved until next week at the earliest.

Hanson argues that Burkholder has a constitutional right to the procedure.

“We know that sentenced prisoners do have a right to abortion, whether people believe it’s appropriate or not, that’s what the Supreme Court has said,” Hanson told KATU. “So the question then is do non-sentenced people awaiting sentencing or awaiting trial, do they have the same rights as sentenced inmates?”

Hanson said this wouldn’t even be an issue if she could afford the bail money. A family member plans to cover Burkholder’s abortion costs.

According to the McMinnville News-Register newspaper, Sheriff Crabtree said he has never granted medical furloughs to inmates facing trial, only to inmates serving time after a conviction.

“I don’t do medical furloughs on pretrial leave,” Crabtree told the News-Register. “If this lady is of sound mind and ability to make decisions, then the judge has full ability to release her. Until I get a court order, I am not going to release somebody into society that could be a danger to herself or others.”

Crabtree was out of town on Wednesday and did not return KATU’s calls.

Mary Starrett, the executive director of Oregonians for Life, said she knows Crabtree and applauds his decision.

“We never accomplish anything by taking the life of an innocent human being,” she said.

The prosecutor in this case said as long as Burkholder isn’t a flight risk, she should be allowed to have the procedure.

Burkholder faces the attempted arson charge after police said doused a hotel room in gasoline and paint thinner, according to a police report. Officers said she contemplated suicide at the time.