Federal court affirms undocumented teen’s right to abortion, but delays the procedure

The teenage girl is already 15 weeks pregnant.

A view of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse that houses the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington.  (CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
A view of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse that houses the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington. (CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

A federal appeals court has ruled that a pregnant, undocumented teenage girl being held by immigration authorities in Texas has a right to an abortion, but the judges further delayed her ability to get one, determining that the government does not need to facilitate the procedure.

The court has instead given the girl until October 31 to find a sponsor, “which would permit her to be released” from the detention facility where she is being held, according to NBC News. At that point, the sponsor — rather than the detention center — would be able to help facilitate the abortion procedure. That decision, the court argued, “does not unduly burden the minor’s right under Supreme Court” to terminate the pregnancy.

The court was also careful to note that the girl does, in fact “[possess] a constitutional right to obtain an abortion in the United States”, although she is undocumented.

The teenager, who has been identified only as Jane Doe, was detained crossing the Mexican border and requested an abortion, but the Trump administration’s Health and Human Services department blocked the request, part of a new policy that prevents unaccompanied immigrant minors from obtaining abortions.

On Thursday, the court temporarily stayed a judge’s ruling that would allow Jane Doe to receive an abortion, and the official ruling came down Friday night.

Jane Doe is already 15 weeks pregnant. Texas does not permit abortions after 20 weeks. If Jane Doe has not secured a sponsor by October 31, the court may re-enter a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, or other appropriate order, according to the ruling that came down Friday.

As such, activists and supporters remain wary, despite the court’s decision.

“This is kicking the can down the road,” Professor Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas law school told NBC News. “And because of the strict abortion laws in Texas, there’s not a lot of road left.”

This story has been updated to include further detail regarding the court’s decision, as well as outside commentary.