A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the government can’t deny abortion to an immigrant teenager detained after crossing the southern U.S. border in Texas. But the judge also declined to prevent federal officials from obstructing her abortion access.
The American Civil Liberties Union brought the legal challenge in a Northern California federal court by adding the teen to an existing 2016 lawsuit. The organization requested a temporary restraining order to compel the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to transport or allow the unaccompanied immigrant teen “Jane Doe” to get to an abortion clinic.
Because Jane Doe does not live in Northern California, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the legal challenge was not filed in the correct venue and that Doe should have a new lawsuit filed in Texas.
“The government may not want to facilitate abortion,” Beeler wrote in her ruling. “But it cannot block it. It is doing that here.”
Rochelle Garza, the lawyer representing the teenager’s legal interests, told the Associated Press that Doe, who’s living in a government-funded shelter, was likely around 14 weeks pregnant. Texas prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks.
Doe got a judicial waiver through a Texas law that requires minors wanting abortions to get consent from a parent, the Associated Press reported. But staff at the facility wouldn’t take her to appointments and won’t let her attorney Marie Christina Cortez take the girl to an abortion clinic, “even though private groups that support abortion rights have raised money for the procedure,” according to the publication. Instead, staff took Doe to a crisis pregnancy center, where she was counseled against having an abortion.
“I feel like they are trying to coerce me to carry my pregnancy to term,” the girl said in a court declaration filed last week.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said Tuesday that undocumented immigrants do not have “a constitutional right to abortion on demand.”
Paxton added that a favorable ruling to let the teenager get her abortion “will create a right to abortion for anyone on earth who enters the U.S. illegally.” He added, “Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions.”
The original ACLU lawsuit from 2016 argued that the government awarded private organizations upwards of $10 million to groups like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that take in migrant kids despite knowing they would restrict contraception and abortion access on religious objections, even in the case of rape. Under the 1997 Flores settlement, organizations must provide unaccompanied minors a full range of medical care, including birth control and abortion care.
Similar cases have cropped up a handful of times during the Obama administration, more notably after unaccompanied children from Central American crossed the southern U.S. border in high volume starting in late December 2013. At the time, the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador began experiencing a resurgence of deadly conditions especially dire for young people who were coerced into gangs.
The circumstances of this particular teenager’s pregnancy are publicly unknown. But among other detained immigrants, experts believe anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of immigrant females are sexually assaulted on their northward journey into the United States. Once federal agents detain unaccompanied minors at the border, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) takes custody of them while they wait for their immigration proceedings. During this time, these children are often placed in shelters contracted by private organizations which can choose to deny medical services like abortion on religious grounds.
UPDATE (10/19/17): On Wednesday night, the U.S. Department of Justice appealed the case and asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit to rule by Thursday night to prevent Jane Doe from getting an abortion, the Washington Post reported.
UPDATE (10/18/17): On Wednesday, Judge Tanya Chutkan, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered that Jane Doe (J.D.) be taken to get an abortion “promptly and without delay” to an abortion clinic closest to her shelter. The order further states that “if transportation to the nearest abortion provider requires J.D. to travel past a border patrol checkpoint, Defendants are restrained from interfering with her ability to do so and are ordered to provide any documentation necessary for her to do so.”