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US Court OKs Undocumented Teen's Abortion

An anti-Trump demonstrator protests at an abortion rights rally in Chicago, Jan. 15, 2017.
An anti-Trump demonstrator protests at an abortion rights rally in Chicago, Jan. 15, 2017.

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. government to allow an undocumented teenager, who is in detention in south Texas, to have an abortion.

Jane Doe, as she is known in court to protect her privacy, has been detained in a refugee shelter in Brownsville, Texas, since Sept. 11, when she was apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.

While Doe, 17, obtained required permission from a state judge to carry out the abortion, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has refused to grant her permission to leave the shelter for the medical procedure.

HHS has jurisdiction over Doe's welfare through its Administration for Children and Families.

"There is no constitutional right for a pregnant minor to illegally cross the U.S. border and get an elective abortion while in federal custody," HHS said in an earlier statement.

"The government cannot ban abortion for anyone," American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Brigitte Amiri countered in a Washington, D.C., courtroom on Wednesday, citing Roe v. Wade, which makes it illegal to prevent an abortion before the third trimester. "If she is unable to have an abortion soon, she will have to travel hundreds of miles to San Antonio. Or, she will be forced to carry to term against her will.”

"Each week of delay will increase risks of the medical procedure," Amiri added.

And time is running out. Doe is 15 weeks pregnant. Under Texas state law, it is illegal to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Cost to the government

Government attorney Scott Stewart said allowing Doe to travel for the abortion imposes a burden on the government, which is not obligated to pay or otherwise assist with the health care of undocumented immigrants.

Judge Tanya Chutkan pointed out that Doe was not asking the government to transport her or pay for her abortion, but only to allow her to leave the detention center so she could go to the medical facility where the abortion would be performed.

"Is it your position that her coming here unlawfully extinguishes her of constitutional rights?" Chutkan asked.

Stewart argued that leaving the refugee shelter was not "a willy-nilly process," but Chutkan pointed out that Doe had obtained judicial authorization to obtain the abortion, which entitled her to medical treatment.

"Aren't residents of this shelter allowed to leave for medical procedures?" Chutkan said. "Why is this any different?"

Stewart maintained allowing Doe to leave the shelter was facilitative action, and thus a burden on the government.

"The government has the obligation to look after the well-being [of Jane Doe]," which was undertaken when Doe was transported to a pregnancy crisis center.

The ACLU claims this same center attempted to dissuade Doe from getting an abortion.

According to documents procured by Politico, Scott Lloyd, who took control of HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement, (part of the Administration for Children and Families) in early March, has forbidden facilities from authorizing abortion procedures and threatened to cut funding if they do.

"The government certainly had no problem taking her against her will to receive pregnancy counseling," Chutkan said, adding that she was "astounded" that the administration of Donald Trump would try to prevent the procedure.

ACLU lawyer Amiri told VOA News that she hoped the ruling would set a precedent and make abortion accessible to other undocumented girls.

But she said she still expects resistance from HHS, which has indicated it will appeal the ruling.