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US Appeals Court Blocks Teen’s Abortion Access


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.

A U.S. appeals court has blocked an undocumented minor from getting an abortion in Texas, while leaving open the possibility that she could still have the procedure shortly.

The appeals court in Washington ruled Friday that the U.S. government had until Oct. 31 to approve an adult sponsor for the minor who could help the teen get an abortion without the government’s assistance.

The court said the requirement that a sponsor be found does not “unduly burden” the girl’s right to an abortion.

Escalation of case

The case of Jane Doe, as she is known to protect the 17-year-old’s identity, was brought to the appeals court Friday in yet another escalation of the case, which began when Doe obtained permission from a state judge to get an abortion, in lieu of parental consent, and raised private money to pay for the procedure.

But the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) refused to grant her permission to leave the shelter in order to obtain it.

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

One of HHS’ arguments against the teen being granted an abortion provided by the government was that she could seek a sponsor, someone to host her as she goes through immigration proceedings, releasing her from the custody of the detention center and thus absolving the government of “facilitating” her abortion.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh asked both sides if they agreed that this would be the best case resolution, allowing Doe to stay in the country and have the abortion without needing any assistance or permission from the government.

Timeframe

Time is of the essence in the case because Doe is 15 weeks pregnant. The state of Texas allows abortions up to the 20th week of pregnancy. Additionally, fewer doctors perform abortions in the later weeks of the legal timeframe.

A lower court had ruled that Doe was to be allowed to have an abortion no later than Saturday, but that ruling was put on hold by the appeals court.

HHS refused to take a position on whether someone in the United States illegally has a constitutional right to 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.
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.

“I think it’s ludicrous,” American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Brigitte Amiri told reporters of the government’s unwillingness to weigh in on the issue.

“The Supreme Court has made very clear that anyone who is in the United States — the Fifth Amendment says all persons — anyone here in the United States has due process rights under the Fifth Amendment,” she said, arguing that the government’s refusal to take a position marked an unwillingness to acknowledge “basic Supreme Court precedent,” citing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling which makes it illegal to prevent an abortion before the third trimester.

Amiri also argued that by repeatedly appealing the case, the government was harming Jane Doe emotionally and physically by effectively forcing her to stay pregnant.

But HHS lawyer Catherine Dorsey argued that Doe had not only the option of finding a sponsor, but also the ability to willingly return to her home country and seek an abortion there.

Iman Sultan contributed to this report.

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