Tragedy, or Justice? Undocumented Teen Gets Abortion After Legal Fight

(Photo: File)

By Giulia Afiune, The Texas Tribune, Oct. 25, 2017

An undocumented teenager under federal custody in Texas got an abortion she had been seeking for weeks Wednesday morning.

The procedure was carried out after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Tuesday that Jane Doe, as she is identified in court filings, could immediately have the abortion she requested, and before the federal government could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is my life, my decision,” said the teenager via her court-appointed guardian in a statement after the procedure.

Doe had received the legal authorization for an abortion weeks ago, on Sept. 25. Under Texas law, minors need their parents’ permission or a court order to have an abortion.

But the federal Department of Health and Human Services refused to let Jane Doe leave the shelter where she is living under federal custody to get the abortion she had requested. The Office of Refugee Resettlement – a sub-division of HHS that oversees the shelter – refused to transport the minor or release her to her court-appointed guardians so they could take her to the abortion clinic. Instead, Jane Doe was forced to go to a Crisis Pregnancy Center, where minors receive counseling directed to dissuade them from having abortions.

The abortion was delayed for weeks while lawyers with the ACLU and the Trump administration battled over the federal government’s role in allowing Doe to have the procedure. The ACLU claimed the federal government was forcing Doe to continue her pregnancy against her will and that she has the constitutional right to an abortion.

The Trump administration has argued that the federal government is not required to facilitate an abortion for a minor in its custody and that Doe could seek the procedure by returning to her home country or having her custody transferred to a sponsor that agrees to take her to an abortion clinic.

“Justice prevailed today for Jane Doe. But make no mistake about it, the Administration’s efforts to interfere in women’s decisions won’t stop with Jane,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project in a news release issued after the procedure.

The legal standoff between the ACLU and the federal government is not over. Now that Doe’s emergency situation has been solved, the ACLU will proceed with a class action action lawsuit in the D.C. District Court seeking an order that prohibits the federal government from blocking abortions for other undocumented minors. Amiri estimates there are several hundred pregnant undocumented teenagers under federal custody, but it’s not possible to know how many are seeking abortion services.

In a news release, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton expressed his “profound disappointment” with Jane Doe’s abortion. “Today’s loss of innocent human life is tragic,” he said.

“Even the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice acknowledged that unlawfully present aliens without substantial connections to the country lack the same constitutional rights as citizens. This ruling not only cost a life, it could pave the way for anyone outside the United States to unlawfully enter and obtain an abortion,” Paxton said.

Texas was among more than 20 states that had weighed in on the legal battle. Paxton and the attorneys general of 11 states had filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Appeals Court defending the Trump administration’s policy of preventing abortions for unaccompanied, undocumented minors. Thirteen other states filed a brief siding with the ACLU, arguing that because a state court already authorized the abortion, a federal agency cannot block the procedure “without infringing upon the sovereignty of those states.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.


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