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Judge to hand down decision in Lauderdale County inmate abortion lawsuit by Friday

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton joined his attorneys in federal court Monday. He's named in a lawsuit for reportedly denying an inmate her right to an abortion.

Attorneys for the woman identified as "Jane Doe" claim Singleton is violating her rights and allowing cruel and unusual punishment. She's represented by ACLU Legal Director Randall Marshall, who says time is of the essence in this case.

"An abortion is a very safe procedure during the first trimester, but the longer you go as each week goes by, it becomes slightly more risky," he said.

The lawsuit states "Jane Doe" knew she was pregnant before her incarceration. She reportedly tried to get an abortion before she went to jail. The suit claims Singleton denied her request for a medical furlough or supervised release for the medical procedure, saying it wasn't a medical emergency.

In that case, as dictated by a 15-year policy, Sheriff Singleton says the inmate requesting medical attention would need to get a court order. That's when the sheriff's office could coordinate transportation, deputies to do the transporting, and schedule around any overtime those deputies may need to go out of area. This particular procedure would require them to go pretty far out of town to Huntsville, said Singleton.

The inmate is still in her first trimester. Attorneys are asking for an emergency injunction asking that the sheriff be ordered to immediately grant the woman's request for counseling and the abortion.

Meantime, Sheriff Singleton filed a motion to dismiss the case.

In court Monday, ACLU attorneys argued the policy requiring the inmate to have a court order is unnecessary.

"It's just a hurdle for her to exercise her constitutional right," he told reporters. He added that the time constraint on a legal abortion should also classify this medical procedure as a medical emergency, and shouldn't even need the court order.

"We just have to do everything we can to make sure our inmates are protected, that our officers are protected," countered Sheriff Singleton. He said his biggest concerns about a transport like this lie with safety and liability.  "If we get a court order, we're going to follow a court order."

The judge said he would hand down a decision in this case by Friday. If he sides with Jane Doe, he would issue a federal order to the sheriff to arrange for transportation to get the inmate to her scheduled procedure.