Three women are suing the Alameda County, Calif., Sheriff's Office over its practice of forcing every detained female to take a pregnancy test.
One of the women in the suit, 72-year-old Susan Harman, was 69 when she was arrested at a protest in Oakland. She says she was still recovering from a club to the head, courtesy of the police, when she was forced to hand over a urine sample.
"To know whether or not you're pregnant is very intimate and personal, and something that a woman would want to discuss with her loved ones and her doctor. Not with some matron in a jail," Harman told KTVU.
Another woman named in the suit, Nancy Mancias, says she was embarrassed when forced to take the test because she had tried to become pregnant but was unsuccessful, NBC Bay Area reports.
“Being forced to submit a pregnancy test against my will was not about my health. It was invasive, offensive, and humiliating,” Mancias said in a statement released by the ACLU of Northern California, which filed the suit on behalf of the women.
But the Alameda County Sheriff's Department told the San Francisco Chronicle that it's been sued over this before -- and last time, they were on the other side of the coin. The department was sued for not conducting the pregnancy tests. As part of the settlement, they agreed to make the tests mandatory.
"If you tell us that we have to test people and then tell us that we can't test people, what can we do?" Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a sheriff's spokesman told the paper.
The ACLU says it just wants the police to do what most other counties do: Offer the test, but don't force it.
“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,” Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. “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."
Gill told the Sacramento Bee that the ACLU has asked the Sheriff's Office to change its policy for years, but it has refused to do so.
"As far as we know, they're the only county that's doing this in the state of California," Gill told the newspaper.
The women are not seeking damages, just an end to the practice, the Chronicle reports.
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