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UPDATE: After Court Battle, Undocumented Teen In Texas Gets Abortion Requested Weeks Ago

An undocumented teenager under federal custody in Texas got an abortion she had been seeking for weeks Wednesday morning, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. “This is my life, my decision,” the teen said in a statement after the procedure

A hallway at the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Austin, which shut down in 2014. Callie Richmond

An undocumented teenager under federal custody in Texas got an abortion she had been seeking for weeks Wednesday morning.

The procedure was carried out after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Tuesday that Jane Doe, as she is identified in court filings, could immediately have the abortion she requested, and before the federal government could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is my life, my decision,” said the teenager via her court-appointed guardian in a statement after the procedure.

Doe had received the legal authorization for an abortion weeks ago, on Sept. 25. Under Texas law, minors need their parents’ permission or a court order to have an abortion.

But the federal Department of Health and Human Services refused to let Jane Doe leave the shelter where she is living under federal custody to get the abortion she had requested. The Office of Refugee Resettlement – a sub-division of HHS that oversees the shelter – refused to transport the minor or release her to her court-appointed guardians so they could take her to the abortion clinic. Instead, Jane Doe was forced to go to a Crisis Pregnancy Center, where minors receive counseling directed to dissuade them from having abortions.

The abortion was delayed for weeks while lawyers with the ACLU and the Trump administration battled over the federal government’s role in allowing Doe to have the procedure. The ACLU claimed the federal government was forcing Doe to continue her pregnancy against her will and that she has the constitutional right to an abortion.

The Trump administration has argued that the federal government is not required to facilitate an abortion for a minor in its custody and that Doe could seek the procedure by returning to her home country or having her custody transferred to a sponsor that agrees to take her to an abortion clinic.

"Justice prevailed today for Jane Doe. But make no mistake about it, the Administration’s efforts to interfere in women’s decisions won’t stop with Jane," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project in a news release issued after the procedure.

The legal standoff between the ACLU and the federal government is not over. Now that Doe’s emergency situation has been solved, the ACLU will proceed with a class action action lawsuit in the D.C. District Court seeking an order that prohibits the federal government from blocking abortions for other undocumented minors. Amiri estimates there are several hundred pregnant undocumented teenagers under federal custody, but it’s not possible to know how many are seeking abortion services.

In a news release, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton expressed his “profound disappointment” with Jane Doe’s abortion. "Today's loss of innocent human life is tragic," he said.

"Even the Obama Administration's Department of Justice acknowledged that unlawfully present aliens without substantial connections to the country lack the same constitutional rights as citizens. This ruling not only cost a life, it could pave the way for anyone outside the United States to unlawfully enter and obtain an abortion,” Paxton said.

Texas was among more than 20 states that had weighed in on the legal battle. Paxton and the attorneys general of 11 states had filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Appeals Court defending the Trump administration’s policy of preventing abortions for unaccompanied, undocumented minors. Thirteen other states filed a brief siding with the ACLU, arguing that because a state court already authorized the abortion, a federal agency cannot block the procedure “without infringing upon the sovereignty of those states.”

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Lara Chelian (center) and her mother, Renee Chelian, both abortion providers from Michigan, hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., as the justices her arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt last year.

An immigrant teen in federal custody who was seeking an abortion over the Trump administration’s objections had the procedure Wednesday after a U.S. appeals court ruled in her favor, her lawyers said.

The 17-year-old had fought for a month to have an abortion, eventually leading to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency oversees facilities for unaccompanied minors who enter the United States illegally and had refused her requests for an abortion.

 

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday restored a lower court’s ruling against HHS. The new ruling ordered HHS to step aside and allow the teen to go forward with an abortion.

“Justice prevailed today for Jane Doe,” said Brigitte Amiri, an ACLU lawyer who argued for the teen in court.

The teen illegally entered the U.S. in September and learned she was pregnant while in federal custody in Texas. She obtained a state court order on Sept. 25 permitting an abortion. But federal officials refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her for the procedure.

HHS argued it had established a policy of “refusing to facilitate” abortions for people in its care. Government lawyers said the teen could ask to be returned to her country of origin instead of seeking an abortion while in HHS’ custody.

Lawyers for the teen said government officials were illegally denying medical care to which the teen was entitled, and that the shelter had instead taken her to a crisis pregnancy center. Such centers try to discourage pregnant women from having abortions.

Jane’s Due Process, a Texas group that works with minors seeking abortions, said it and other groups had raised private money to pay for the teen’s abortion. It said lawyers appointed to represent the teen’s interests would take her from the South Texas facility where she was being held to and from an abortion clinic.

Lawyers for the teen have not identified the teen’s name or country of origin, citing privacy reasons, but have said she was from Central America. But they said the teen feared having her parents find out that she wanted an abortion because she had seen them abuse a sister who was pregnant.

The teen was about 15 weeks pregnant, and Texas law bans most abortions after 20 weeks.

“It shouldn’t take dozens of lawyers for anyone to get an abortion, and that’s what it took in this case,” said Susan Hays, legal director for Jane’s Due Process.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who argued in court filings that the teen did not have a constitutional right to an abortion, called the case “tragic” and argued it could “pave the way for anyone outside the United States to unlawfully enter and obtain an abortion.” Paxton noted in his statement that the U.S. Department of Justice did not appeal the circuit court’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

HHS and the Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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