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Nebraska corrections official resigns in protest over decision to deny inmate's abortion

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LINCOLN — A Nebraska corrections official has resigned over the department’s denial of an inmate’s request for an abortion, calling the decision “reprehensible,” and both morally and legally wrong.

Hayden Thomas, who had served as the Americans With Disabilities Act coordinator with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services since 2019, said it was clear that the woman had a constitutional right to access an abortion, but the agency chose to ignore the case law.

“How can we possibly claim the moral authority to incarcerate others for forsaking the rule of law if we ourselves fail to uphold it and instead choose to engage in acts of public corruption or administrative malfeasance?” Thomas wrote in his resignation letter, which was obtained by The World-Herald.

Public servants, he added, have a “special obligation” to implement the law “without regard to political preference, personal bias or administrative expediency.”

The department declined to comment on the letter, which was addressed to State Corrections Director Scott Frakes. A department spokeswoman said Tuesday that corrections does not comment on personnel issues.

Thomas submitted his resignation early Monday, just before a federal judge’s approval of an emergency request requiring prison officials to provide transportation for the inmate from the state women’s prison in York to an abortion clinic in Lincoln.

The woman, 22, became pregnant before entering prison in February, and, according to her mother, sought an abortion because she had become pregnant by forced sex. The inmate had already made appointments for an “informed consent” consultation on Monday and the procedure on Tuesday.

On Monday, state lawyers with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office reached a settlement with the ACLU of Nebraska, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of the woman, who was identified as “Jane Roe” in the lawsuit. In it, the state agreed to provide transportation for the woman to the Lincoln Planned Parenthood clinic.

Roe’s family agreed to pay all medical costs directly to Planned Parenthood. The court ordered the family to pay $355 in advance to cover all transportation and security costs incurred by the state for the two trips.

The state, in the settlement agreement, said its compromise did not mean it agreed with the woman’s legal arguments. State health care rules for inmates bar the use of state funds to facilitate an abortion.

The ACLU of Nebraska, in the lawsuit, said that for more than 50 years U.S. laws have recognized the right of inmates to have access to an abortion and that abortion rights do not end when someone is sentenced to prison.

The civil rights organization cited a 2005 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that ordered Missouri prison officials to provide transportation for an inmate who chose to have an abortion. The Missouri prison rule that had forbidden such transportation was deemed unconstitutional.

Thomas, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran who is completing studies for a master’s degree in public administration, said he wasn’t seeking personal recognition. He said he was willing to discuss his resignation because he felt it was prompted by a “flagrant case of government not following the law.”

“At the end of the day, I’m glad that the rule of law was upheld,” he said in an interview.

Thomas said he addressed his letter to Frakes because, as the state corrections director, agency decisions rest with him.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, a staunch opponent of abortion rights who hired Frakes in 2015, has declined to comment on the case, or on whether he had any role in the initial decision to block the woman’s abortion.


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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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