Last updated: August 22. 2014 11:45PM - 2597 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com

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Luzerne County’s former budget/finance director Donna Magni is questioning a $1,245 county prison payment to an Allentown abortion clinic and suggested her inquiry into the matter prompted her termination.

“I found out about the alleged abortion on January 15, 2014, and January 31, 2014, I was terminated from my position under false pretenses,” Magni, of West Wyoming, recently wrote in a letter asking the state to force the county to provide her with more information on the procedure funded by the payment.

County Correctional Services Division Head J. Allen Nesbitt said Friday the law prevents him from discussing specifics of any inmate medical procedures but said in general that counties must fund abortions if inmates choose that option.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has reaffirmed this stance in published reports, saying federal law requires jails to pay the cost of an abortion if an inmate cannot afford the procedure. Federal law also requires jails to provide counseling to pregnant inmates before they make a final decision, the ACLU says.

Mary Catherine Roper, an ACLU staff attorney in Philadelphia, said jails have no choice.

“There is a decision from federal court that says prisons have to provide abortions when women otherwise meet requirements,” Roper said, referring to counseling and gestational limits.

Nesbitt said pregnant inmates undergo a “very extensive series” of religious, medical and psychological counseling before they make a final decision on abortion.

“If that’s the direction they wish to go, we must do what the law says. Whether we agree or disagree, it’s a law that an individual may have an abortion during a certain period of time,” Nesbitt said, who didn’t have historical statistics on the number of abortions in the county prison.

Prison medical care

The county must fund medical care for inmates during their incarceration, he said. The county seeks reimbursement for any medical expenses, which would include abortions, if inmates are covered by private insurance, he said.

Few inmates have private insurance, and refusing to cover the expense to inmates who have no access to money could subject the county to liability, particularly if a delay prevents inmates from terminating their pregnancy, officials say.

But Magni alleges county funding of an abortion violates the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision barring the use of certain government funds to pay for abortions, according to her letter to the state Office of Open Records seeking access to information about the county payment.

Magni, who could not be reached for comment Friday, points to a letter she received from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett as evidence abortions must be paid with personal funds, not taxpayer dollars.

The May 5 letter from Corbett, which refers to the state prison system, says: “If an inmate elects to terminate the pregnancy, the inmate and her family shall be responsible for all costs related to the diagnostic work-up, assessment, treatment, surgical intervention, medical complications and security officer and transportation costs associated with the elective termination of pregnancy procedures.”

County records show a $1,245 payment to the Allentown Women’s Center on Sept. 4 but no details.

The county denied Magni’s Right-to-Know request for information about the procedure and surgery the inmate received, saying individual medical information is not public record. Disclosure of the information also would violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA, the county said.

In her letter to the state, Magni said she was “defamed and libeled” by county management, and the information about the invoice is “crucial to my case.”

County officials did not provide a reason for her termination, citing personnel confidentiality. References to errors in financial records were privately cited as a reason by some county employees. Others say the administration did not agree with the way she publicly discussed cash flow problems during a council meeting.

Accounting degree

Magni was hired in March 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and had worked as an accountant at several companies.

Her resume also indicated she was pursuing a religious vocation from 2007 through 2010 at the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate in Monroe, New York, where she performed door-to-door visitation to encourage people to return to the Catholic faith.

County officials last publicly debated inmate abortion in 2007, when an inmate was transported to a Philadelphia abortion clinic. The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said at the time the abortion was medically necessary because she became very ill due to complications that were caused by her blood type, which is RH negative.

The woman was seeking funds to reimburse the county for the $1,940 costs of the procedure, but it’s unclear if the county ultimately paid. Some county officials maintained the county could fund medically necessary abortions and require inmates to cover the cost of elective ones.

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