October 19 at 12:33 PM
A federal appeals Court has temporarily blocked an undocumented immigrant teenager being held in U.S. custody from obtaining an Abortion Friday or Saturday, but said the teen should be allowed to receive scheduled counseling from a doctor Thursday.
The teenager, who is in her 15th week of pregnancy, is being held at a shelter in Texas, where under state law she cannot have an abortion until 24 hours after counseling from a doctor.
She was detained by U.S. officials in early September after crossing the border illegally, and is being held in a shelter overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which cares for undocumented minors until they can be reunited with family members.
The appeals court’s action came less than a day after U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington ordered the U.S. government to allow the teen to have an abortion, saying time was running out and that the girl would face “increased risk to her health” and perhaps be forced to carry the child to term if the government did not act quickly. Texas bars most abortions after 20 weeks.
The judge said she was “astounded” that the Trump administration was trying to block the procedure.
[U.S. judge orders Trump administration to allow abortion for undocumented teen]
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said its order is intended only to “give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion for stay and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion.”
The court has scheduled oral argument on the appeal for Friday morning.
The government’s appeal was reviewed by D.C. Circuit Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Patricia A. Millett.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, who are representing the 17-year-old girl, said she is getting the counseling today near her shelter in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, along the U.S.-Mexico border. In court, they argued that she has a right to an abortion, which she will pay for, because of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, which guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion.
“This administration has no shame and no regard for a woman’s health or decisions,” said ACLU lawyer Brigitte Amiri. “Weeks ago, our client decided to end her pregnancy. Her decision has been disregarded and she’s now been dragged into a protracted legal battle over her ability to get the care she needs.”
Late Wednesday, her lawyers had warned the appeals court that any delay would “impose great harm.” If the girl does not obtain an abortion this week, they said, she may be forced to go to another health center hundreds of miles away because of scheduling problems and clinic hours. Texas law also requires that the same doctor counsel a patient and perform the abortion.
The girl has been in federal custody since early September, when she was caught crossing the border illegally. She underwent a health examination and was informed that she was pregnant, and she sought an abortion soon afterward.
But the U.S. Health and Human Services agency denied her request Sept. 27 and has refused to release her to a court-appointed guardian or transport her to an abortion provider.
In court filings, the Justice Department said that the U.S. government has a “legitimate interest in promoting fetal life and childbirth over abortion.” They argued that the girl could seek an abortion on her own by finding a person to sponsor her legally in the United States, which would allow them to release her, or by voluntarily departing to her homeland, somewhere in Central America.
“Ms. Doe should not be able to force the federal government to facilitate her access to an elective abortion simply because she was apprehended entering the United States illegally, is properly in custody, and chooses to stay here illegally rather than depart,” the Justice Department said in its appeal late Wednesday.
[An undocumented teen is pregnant and in custody. Can the U.S. stop her from getting an abortion?]
In court records, the government said HHS has a “policy of refusing to facilitate abortions, including by committing staff and other resources, except in very limited circumstances.”
Top law enforcement officials from nine states, including Texas, Missouri and Ohio, backed the Justice Department, saying in a court filing that there is no “constitutional right to abortion on demand.”
The Supreme Court has said that the government cannot impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy in the early stages.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in court papers that the high court has never said that abortion rights extend to undocumented immigrants without “significant ties” to the United States.
“No court has ever before issued such a sweeping order — and with good reason,” the attorneys general said in their court filings. “The district court’s order effectively creates a right to abortion for anyone on Earth who entered the United States illegally, no matter how briefly.”
The teen has been in federal custody since she was caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Her nationality has not been made public.
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