Court Delays Abortion For An Undocumented Teenager After The DOJ Stepped In

MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images
Share

A U.S. appeals court has further delayed an undocumented pregnant teenage migrant's efforts to obtain an abortion. In a 2-1 ruling issued Friday, a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refrained from ordering the government to immediately allow the girl access to an abortion. Instead they ruled the government had until Oct. 31 to find a sponsor who would take custody of the girl and help her get an abortion.

The court's delay, however, could jeopardize the Central American teen's ability to have an abortion under Texas state law, which bans abortion after 20 weeks. Identified only as "Jane Doe" or "J.D." in court documents, the 17-year-old migrant is reportedly 15 weeks pregnant.

"If a sponsor is secured and J.D. is released from [Health and Human Services'] custody to the sponsor, HHS agrees that J.D. then will be lawfully able, if she chooses, to obtain an abortion on her own pursuant to the relevant state law," an order from the court states. The court noted it agreed with the government's argument that the process of transferring the girl from the HHS' custody a that of a sponsor "does not unduly burden the minor's right" to an abortion "so long as the process of securing a sponsor... occurs expeditiously."

But not every judge on the court's panel was in agreement. D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia A. Millett called the court's 2-1 ruling "wrong" and "unconstitutional" in her dissent from the disposition of the case. "There are no winners in cases like these. But there sure are losers," Millett wrote in her dissent. "As of today, J.D. has already been forced by the government to continue an unwanted pregnancy for almost four weeks, and now, as a result of this order, must continue to carry that pregnancy for multiple more weeks." Judge Millett claimed requiring the girl to wait until a government-approved sponsor could be found "defies controlling Supreme Court precedent."

"Forcing her to continue an unwanted pregnancy just in the hopes of finding a sponsor that has not been found in the past six weeks sacrifices J.D.'s constitutional liberty, autonomy, and personal dignity for no justifiable governmental reason," Judge Millett wrote. The judge also noted that the girl, who would be roughly 17 weeks pregnant when the court's deadline passed, would likely (because of her gestation date) be forced to travel to an abortion clinic hundreds of miles away due to the court's decision to delay her from obtaining the procedure.

According to court documents, the girl entered the United States without her parents sometime in late September. She is currently being held in a Texas detention facility for unaccompanied immigrant minors run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. She has reportedly been seeking an abortion ever since she was apprehended by authorities and learned she was pregnant.

According to Judge Millett's dissent, the 17-year-old has also complied with Texas state laws requiring her to undergo mandatory counseling and obtain a state court order stating she is mature enough to make up her own mind regarding the termination of her pregnancy.  

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is currently representing the teen, claimed their client "continues to be held hostage and prevented from getting an abortion because the Trump administration disagrees with her personal decision."

"Our client and women across this country should be able to access a safe, legal abortion without federal officials stepping in to interfere," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement released Friday.

A lawyer for HHS, however, has argued the government isn't attempting to obstruct the girl from obtaining an abortion. "We're not putting an obstacle in her path," the Washington Post reported HHS attorney Catherine H. Dorsey told the court panel Friday. "We're declining to facilitate an abortion."

The case has drawn significant attention nationwide and some Texas officials say they aren't keen on allowing the undocumented teen access to an abortion. In a statement issued Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was "disappointed" with the panel's order. "Unlawfully-present aliens with no substantial ties to the U.S. do not have a right to abortion on demand," he said. "Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions."

If a government-approved sponsor cannot be found for the girl by the court's Oct. 31 deadline, the court noted the teenager would be allowed to return to a lower court which, earlier in the week, ordered the government to allow her access to an abortion "without delay."