Federal Judge Orders Government To Allow Abortion For Undocumented Teen

Brian Skoloff/AP Photo
Update: A federal judge blasted the U.S. government for trying to prevent an undocumented 17-year-old from obtaining an abortion. U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan said Wednesday she was "astounded" the Trump administration was trying to prevent the pregnant teenager, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last month, from having the procedure.
Lawyers for Attorney General Jeff Sessions had argued in court that the teen, identified as "Jane Doe," didn't have a constitutional right to an elective abortion while she remained in federal custody, unless the procedure was necessary due to a medical emergency. Judge Chutkan said that the administration was in essence giving the teen two options: Voluntarily go back to the country she fled and have an abortion there, or be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
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"I am astounded by that position," Chutkan said. She also criticized the federal government for taking the girl to a Christian pregnancy facility to be counseled against terminating the pregnancy, even though she didn't want to go there.
"The government certainly had no problem taking her against her will to receive pregnancy counseling, which was designed to change her mind," she said. "The government didn’t seem to have any problem facilitating that."
Chutkan ordered the Trump administration to allow the teenager "promptly and without delay" to visit an abortion provider. Jane Doe is currently 15 weeks pregnant, and Texas bans abortion procedures after 20 weeks.
"At last, our client will be able to get the care she needs without federal officials standing in the way," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "Her courage and perseverance are incredible, but no one should have to go to court to get a safe, legal abortion. And no one should be held hostage to the extreme anti-abortion views of a handful of government officials."
This story was originally published on October 10, 2017.
A 17-year-old immigrant from Central America is fighting for her right to have an abortion despite the opposition of U.S. and state officials.
Advocates for the pregnant girl, who is currently being held in a Texas facility for immigrant children who have crossed the border alone, are asking a federal judge to allow her to get an abortion.
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A federal magistrate judge in San Francisco has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on a request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which accuses the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of refusing to let the girl be taken for the procedure.
Rochelle Garza, a lawyer appointed to represent the girl's legal interests, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she may be up to 14 weeks' pregnant. Texas state law prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks.
Garza says the teen is from Central America, like most people caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without legal permission. She declined to give the girl's name or identify the specific country where she was from, citing the girl's privacy as a minor, but said that the girl wanted an abortion in part because she had seen her parents abuse another sibling who was pregnant.
With Garza's help, the girl obtained a judicial waiver under a Texas law requiring a minor seeking an abortion to get consent from a parent. But staff at the facility where she's being held refused to take her to her appointments with a doctor to seek an abortion, or let the attorney take her, even though private groups that support abortion rights have raised money for the procedure, Garza said.
Instead, she was taken to a crisis pregnancy center. Such centers encourage pregnant women not to have an abortion.
"I feel like they are trying to coerce me to carry my pregnancy to term," the girl said in a declaration filed in federal court last week.
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The ACLU of Northern California sued HHS last year over what it said was the denial of abortion and contraception to girls in its custody.
Unaccompanied Central American children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border are generally turned over to facilities run by private operators on behalf of HHS. Many facilities are affiliated with religious organizations that oppose abortion like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Nearly 3,000 unaccompanied children were caught by Border Patrol agents at the border in August, the most recent month for which data is available.
U.S. lawyers representing HHS argued that the ACLU's request for a temporary restraining order allowing an abortion to go forward was wrong on technical grounds, since the original lawsuit argued HHS was violating the First Amendment by allowing religious groups to allegedly refuse access to abortion. In this case, the 17-year-old is not being held in a facility with a religious affiliation, government lawyers said.
It was not immediately known how long the girl would be held at the facility, or whether she would eventually be transferred.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton went further in a separate filing Tuesday. Paxton, who is a strident opponent of abortion rights like most leaders in the nation's largest conservative state, argued that people in the United States illegally without some type of established ties to the country did not have a "constitutional right to an abortion on demand."
If the court rules in the girl's favor, "the ruling will create a right to abortion for anyone on earth who enters the U.S. illegally," Paxton said in a statement. "And with that right, countless others undoubtedly would follow. Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions."
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Paxton was joined in filing the brief by the attorneys general of Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.
Garza argued the girl's case "really has nothing to do with her immigration status," and that she had complied with the state's abortion laws.
"As far as I'm aware, abortion is legal in this country," Garza said. "Nobody has the right to force her to have a child against her will."
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