Appeals court puts immigrant teen's abortion in Texas on hold

By Allen Cone  |  Updated Oct. 19, 2017 at 2:22 PM
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Oct. 19 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Thursday halted a lower court judge's order one day earlier that would have allowed a pregnant undocumented teenager in U.S. custody to have an abortion in Texas.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the 17-year-old, which is only identified as Jane Doe, can receive abortion counseling and a sonogram -- required first steps for an abortion in Texas. But they blocked Judge Tanya S. Chutkan's earlier order requiring officials to let the teen receive an abortion Friday or Saturday.

The three judges set oral arguments for Friday morning on whether to allow the abortion.

The appeal was filed by Eric Hargan, acting secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, which has custody of Jane Doe, who wasn't accompanied by a parent when she crossed the Texas-Mexico border without the required documentation in early September.

In U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C, Chutkan on Wednesday ordered administration officials to allow a 17-year-old teenager to be taken to an clinic "promptly and without delay," and receive an abortion Friday or Saturday.

Otherwise, the girl "will suffer irreparable injury in the form of, at a minimum, increased risk to her health, and perhaps the permanent inability to obtain a desired abortion to which she is legally entitled," the judge ruled.

She is believed to be 14 and 1/2 weeks pregnant and Texas law only allows women to terminate pregnancies before 20 weeks.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement has prevented the girl, who is staying at an undisclosed shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children in Texas, from getting an abortion.

"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," the judge wrote in the order.

Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union are representing the girl.

On Friday, the ACLU sued the HHS' Hargan and the leaders of two divisions within the department: the Administration for Children and Families and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The ACLU added the girl to an existing lawsuit against the Office of Refugee Resettlement in California. A judge ruled that her case needed to be filed in a separate suit in a different court.

"Jane Doe is a brave and persistent young woman who has already been forced by the Trump administration to delay her abortion for weeks," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a release. "The government is holding her hostage so that she will be forced to carry to term against her will."

The ACLU said the Office of Refugee Resettlement, under President Donald Trump, won't allow unaccompanied minors to receive abortions. Instead they are being referring to crisis pregnancy centers, which counsel women against abortions, often from a religious perspective.

The ACLU also said federal officials forced her to have a medically unnecessary sonogram against her will and they told Jane's mother about her abortion against her wishes. She indicated her parents were physically abusive to an older sister who became pregnant, the ACLU said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in filing an amicus brief, said that crossing the border without proper documentation does not give immigrants broad rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.

"An unlawfully-present alien with no substantial ties to this country has no constitutional right to abortion on demand," Paxton said Wednesday in a release. "Texas has a legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life. Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions."

Attorneys general of Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina joined Texas in the brief.

Scott Stewart, a deputy assistant attorney general, said in district court that abortions for undocumented immigrants are are only necessary if it's an medical emergency.

In court filings, the Justice Department argued that it has "strong and constitutionally legitimate interests in promoting childbirth, in refusing to facilitate abortion, and in not providing incentives for pregnant minors to illegally cross the border to obtain elective abortions while in federal custody."

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