iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked an undocumented, unaccompanied minor — who is under federal custody — from obtaining the abortion she is seeking.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday ruled that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is supervising the detention of the 17-year-old, has until Oct. 31, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. to secure a sponsor for the teen, which would allow for her release.
If a sponsor is not found and the teen is not released by that time, the lower court may re-enter it’s ruling, which had ordered the government to allow to teen to move forward with the abortion.
The minor, who is being held in an HHS-contracted facility in Texas, is 15 weeks pregnant. Texas bans abortions after 20 weeks. Her attorney made it clear on Friday that delays could cause further delays because of the limited access to abortion doctors in Texas and specific laws governing abortions in the state. Her attorney also pointed out that she has been in custody for weeks and the department hasn’t yet found a suitable sponsor.
“Justice is delayed yet again for this courageous and persistent young woman. She continues to be held hostage and prevented from getting an abortion because the Trump administration disagrees with her personal decision,” Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement after the order was issued.
Amiri, who argued on behalf of the teen in court on Friday, said the ACLU is “investigating all avenues to get justice for her.”
A three-judge circuit court panel heard oral arguments in the case, Garza v. Hargan, this morning in Washington, D.C.
The Trump administration argued Friday that it was “refusing to facilitate” an abortion for an unaccompanied minor, who entered the country unlawfully and is currently under federal custody.
“For however much time we are given, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and HHS will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies in our facilities, and we will defend human dignity for all in our care,” the Administration for Children and Families at HHS said in a statement.
A few weeks ago, the teen received a state judicial order, as is required in Texas without parental consent, allowing her to proceed with the abortion, but so far the Trump administration has blocked her efforts.
“The government has not put any obstacle in her path, rather the government is refusing to facilitate an abortion, which it is permitted to do in furtherance of its legitimate and significant interests,” Department of Justice attorney Catherine Dorsey said on behalf of the government in her opening remarks.
The teen is under HHS supervision, as is the policy for minors entering the United States illegally without a parent, at a detention facility in Texas. The department has been led by acting Secretary Eric Hargan since Trump-appointed HHS Secretary Tom Price resigned at the end of September after it was revealed that he had repeatedly chartered private planes for government travel.
Attorneys for the administration argued that the restrictions don’t place an “undue burden” on the teen, because she can either leave the detention facility by either self-deporting or obtaining a sponsor inside the United States.
The identity of the minor, who is referred to as Jane Doe (J.D.), her country of origin and other details are under court seal to protect her privacy.
But the government lawyer did reveal that abortion is illegal in the teen’s home country.
The government didn’t deny that Jane Doe has a constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy; it just argued that it’s not required to facilitate it, according to ABC News Supreme Court contributor Kate Shaw.
But the ACLU argued that the government isn’t only refusing to facilitate, but blocking her from exercising that right, Shaw said.
“The government is violating well-established Supreme Court president” by refusing to transport her to have an abortion or to allow anyone else to transport the minor for an abortion, Amiri, arguing on behalf of the teen, said in court Friday.
The teen was also forced to visit a religious, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center, and, over the minor’ objections, told her mother about the pregnancy, according to the complaint.
Since the unaccompanied minor was granted judicial bypass to allow for the abortion in Texas, she was also appointed a guardian, Rochelle Garza, who is willing to accompany the teen to her appointment. Indeed, Garza and another attorney went with the minor to an abortion counseling session Thursday.
Texas law requires that counseling be done within 24 hours of an abortion by the same doctor who will perform the procedure, complicating the timeframe for the abortion and court ruling, Amiri said.
She has already been pushed form the first trimester to her second, because of the delays, according to her attorney.
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