Migrant teenager seeks court authorization to access abortion services

A section of border fence near Brownsville. (Photo by Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune)

by Giulia Afiune | The Texas Tribune

A pregnant, 17-year-old, undocumented immigrant is at the center of a legal dispute over whether unaccompanied immigrant minors have the right to an abortion in the United States.

After being caught by immigration authorities, Jane Doe, as she's referred to in court filings, is currently at a shelter in Brownsville, in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a federal agency responsible for refugees and unaccompanied undocumented minors. Doe is seeking an emergency court order authorizing her to access abortion services after the federal office blocked her from attending a pre-abortion medical appointment, according to Susan Hays, legal director of Jane's Due Process, a nonprofit that provides legal representation for pregnant minors in Texas.

Hays, who's working on the case, said her organization has already helped Doe get the court authorization required for the procedure. Under Texas law, minors need their parents' permission or a court order to get an abortion.

"On Sept. 28, she was scheduled to go get her options counseling and state-law mandated sonogram by the same physician that will perform the abortion," Hays said. The young woman was scheduled for an abortion the next day.

But ORR refused to let Doe leave the shelter to go to the clinic, even accompanied by her guardian and attorney ad litem — the people who are appointed by a judge to be responsible for minors in her situation.

According to Hays, instead of going to the abortion clinic, Jane Doe was forced to go to a Crisis Pregnancy Center, where minors get counseling directed to dissuade them from having abortions. "ORR has decided as a matter of policy that they will refuse access to abortion by any minor in their care," Hays said.

On Oct. 5, the American Civil Liberties Union added Doe to a June 2016 case against ORR. According to Hays, the ACLU is seeking an emergency order allowing Jane Doe to access the abortion clinic and a nationwide injunction to prevent ORR from blocking abortions for refugees and minors under their care.

"The ACLU is going to court to ensure that Jane Doe and other young women like her can obtain the abortion care they are seeking," the ACLU stated in a Tuesday news release. "... The Trump administration has adopted a new policy that directly prevents unaccompanied immigrant minors from obtaining abortions."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed an amicus brief in the case, which is set to be heard Wednesday in a U.S. District Court in San Francisco. In a Tuesday news release, Paxton's office said he filed the brief to defend "the federal government’s right to deny access to abortion services to an unlawfully-present minor alien in Texas."

“If ‘Doe’ prevails in this case, the ruling will create a right to abortion for anyone on earth who enters the U.S. illegally. And with that right, countless others undoubtedly would follow," Paxton said in the release, adding that "Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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