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Court Grants Undocumented Teen Access to Abortion

Activists with Planned Parenthood demonstrate in support of a pregnant 17-year-old being held in a Texas facility for unaccompanied immigrant children to obtain an abortion, outside of the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, Oct. 20, 2017.

An undocumented 17-year-old had an abortion Wednesday morning, ending a weeks-long legal battle that had been escalated to a federal appeals court.

"Jane finally got the care after the gov't held her hostage for a month," Brigitte Amiri, the lawyer for Jane Doe, as the teenager is known in court to protect her privacy, wrote on Twitter.

​In a statement released by the ACLU via her guardian, Jane Doe said she dreamed of studying to become a nurse and work with the elderly in the United States - and also, that she knew she was not ready to be a parent.

"My lawyers have told me that people around the country have been calling and writing to show support for me. I am touched by this show of love from people I may never know and from a country I am just beginning to know – to all of you, thank you," she wrote.

"This is my life, my decision. I want a better future. I want justice."

A day earlier, the federal appeals court ruled to reverse an earlier decision by a three-judge appeals court panel to block Jane Doe from having an abortion, which argued that the teen could seek a sponsor in the United States and, under that person's custody, move to terminate her pregnancy. The court said the requirement that a sponsor be found does not “unduly burden” the girl’s right to an abortion.

But her lawyers quickly appealed the ruling, arguing that prolonging her pregnancy caused an emotional and physical burden on Doe, and that the government simply had to step aside, as opposed to facilitate, the procedure.

“There is no basis in Constitution to delay abortion," Jane Doe's lawyer Brigitte Amiri with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told VOA.

ACLU lawyer Brigitte Amiri talks to reporters after an appeals court hearing on whether a pregnant undocumented immigrant should be allowed to obtain an abortion.
ACLU lawyer Brigitte Amiri talks to reporters after an appeals court hearing on whether a pregnant undocumented immigrant should be allowed to obtain an abortion.

“The ACLU actually brought this case as class action to address other girls who have been in the same situation," Amiri said, noting that she was aware of at least three minor girls in this situation before Jane Doe, and that the ACLU hopes this case will prevent the government from "doing this ever again.”

“It can be very harmful to delay an abortion - there are medical and psychological effects," Dr. Jenn Conti, ob-gyn and fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told VOA. "The teenager [in Texas] has overcome extreme obstacles, she’s come to this country by herself and she’s taken steps to get an abortion, but she is still denied and held hostage against her will and forced to carry to term," she said.

Jane Doe has been detained in a refugee shelter in Brownsville, Texas, since September 11, when she was apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Doe, 17, obtained permission from a state judge, in lieu of parental consent, and raised private money to pay for the procedure. But Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has refused to grant her permission to leave the shelter in order to obtain it.

The Department of Health and Human Services has jurisdiction over the welfare of unaccompanied minors who are caught crossing the border.