Alameda County Sheriff's Dept. sued over jail pregnancy tests

A controversial policy requiring pregnancy tests for most women booked into an Alameda County jail is now the object of a lawsuit by the ACLU.
A controversial policy requiring pregnancy tests for most women booked into an Alameda County jail is now the object of a lawsuit by the ACLU. The age limit now is 60, but one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit was given the test in 2010 when she was nearly 70.

Oakland's Susan Harman says she was among 78 protestors arrested four years ago and booked into the Alameda County jail facility downtown following demonstrations that came after the Johannes Mehserle verdict.

And despite her age -- 69 at the time -- like all the women in the group of arrestees, Harman was ordered to take a pregnancy test.

"Three of us were taken into a large bathroom by a female sheriff's officer and asked to pee into cups," Harman said.

Harman says she was never told the reason for the pregnancy test or the result.

Now, Harman is one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Alameda County Sheriff's Department.

"Unfortunately, it's the only county in California that has this policy," ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill said.

Gill is the ACLU attorney who filed the suit. It claims mandatory pregnancy testing at any age by a jail is a violation of civil rights and is illegal.

"It's plainly unconstitutional," Gill said. "It violates women's right to privacy. And it's also an unconstitutional search and seizure and it violates a very clear California law that folks in custody are required to give informed consent."

"It's a very personal thing about being pregnant or not and a sheriff's officer is not the first person I would want to know whether I was pregnant or not," Harman said.

As it is now, Alameda County's policy is to test all women aged 60 and under. In San Francisco, the test is voluntary and Contra Costa County doesn't do it at all.
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