Teenage Immigrant Blocked — Again — from Accessing Legal Abortion in Texas

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The Trump Administration is using a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant to announce a sweeping anti-abortion stance.

It began two weeks ago, when the teenage girl, living in a Brownsville federal shelter for undocumented and unaccompanied minors, requested a legal abortion. Since she's living under the care of the federal government (the Office of Refugee Resettlement, to be specific) she's legally granted access to "family planning services, including pregnancy tests and ... access to medical reproductive health services" — not unlike the rights of a federal prisoner.

She had been going to the doctor in preparation and had jumped through all the hoops needed to obtain an abortion as a minor in Texas — like getting a judge's approval of the decision. But when she was ready for the procedure itself, the feds refused to let her go. Instead, they followed new, previously-unreported orders from ORR Director Scott Lloyd, and took her to a faith-based counseling center meant to convince or guilt women out of getting an abortion. According to Lloyd, no federal shelters caring for unaccompanied immigrants can allow minors to get an abortion without “direction and approval from the Director of ORR." And he won't give approval.

"I feel like they are trying to coerce me to carry my pregnancy to term," wrote Doe in a Oct. 5 testimony.

That's when the ACLU got involved. First, ACLU lawyers tried requesting a hearing in a California court (where they already had a similar case open), but the judge said it was out of her jurisdiction. So they sped off to Washington, D.C., to file an emergency injunction against the feds. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan granted the injunction, and the teen (dubbed "Jane Doe" in court) was to be transported  "promptly and without delay" to the nearest abortion provider in Texas. The mandatory counseling would take place Thursday, Chutkan ruled, and the abortion procedure would take place Friday or Saturday.

But, while Jane Doe was receiving counseling Thursday morning, the Department of Health and Human Services — which oversees the the Office of Refugee Resettlement — appealed Chutkan's decision, arguing that there's nothing in the constitution that lets undocumented immigrants get an abortion in the U.S. In response, the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. issued a stay, meaning the court will hear oral arguments Friday morning from ACLU and HHS lawyers before allowing Chutkan's injunction to pass.

Jane Doe, who is 15 weeks pregnant, has become a ticking time bomb. If the case isn't resolved within 5 weeks, she will no longer be legally allowed an abortion in Texas.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded the stay in a press release, adding that if Doe wanted an abortion, she could find one out outside of the U.S.

“The D.C. Circuit made the right decision to temporarily stay the district court’s order, which contradicts U.S. Supreme Court precedent and harms the public interest because it effectively creates a right to abortion for anyone who entered the U.S. illegally, no matter how briefly,” said Paxton. “Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions.”

ACLU shared a different type of reaction on Twitter: "The Trump administration has no shame. Weeks ago, our client decided to end her pregnancy. Her decision has been disregarded and she's been dragged into an extended legal battle to get the care she needs. The abuse of power is appalling."


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