Federal Government Ordered To Find Sponsor For Unaccompanied Minor Seeking Abortion
This post has been updated.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is giving the Trump administration until Oct. 31 to find and approve a sponsor for a pregnant unaccompanied minor in federal custody in Brownsville, Texas.
The 17-year-old, referred to in the case as Jane Doe, came to the U.S. without documentation early last month. She is 15 weeks pregnant and has been seeking an abortion.
According to court records, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been implementing a policy that requires all abortions to be approved by the director of the agency. The director denied Doe's request.
Once she is in the custody of a sponsor, she will no longer be subject to that policy and be able to pursue an abortion under relevant state law.
Susan Hays, legal director of Jane’s Due Process, said there's no guarantee that getting Doe a sponsor will allow her to get an abortion; she will be nearly 17 weeks pregnant at that time.
“Every day she is forced to stay pregnant is an eternity for this Jane," she said. "ORR’s lawless actions have already forced her into the second trimester; had ORR followed its own policies she could have had a simple ten-minute aspiration abortion or even a medication abortion."
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also said he was "disappointed" by the ruling and that people in the country illegally did not have the right to "abortion on demand."
Doe’s attorney, Brigitte Amiri with the American Civil Liberties Union, had asked the court to resolve the issue as soon as possible because the longer it takes, the harder it will be for Doe to find an abortion provider. In Texas, abortions after 20 weeks are banned. Some doctors in the state stop performing them even earlier.
Amiri said the young woman has been forced to continue her pregnancy against her will and that she should not be treated differently simply because she is in federal custody.
“There is no reason why her immigration status should diminish her constitutional right to access abortion,” she said.
A Trump administration attorney said it is not denying Doe an abortion, because she can go back to the country she left. During the hearing, it was made clear, however, that abortions are illegal in that country. (Many details about Doe’s history are sealed.)
“The government has not put any obstacle in her path," Katherine Dorsey, an attorney representing the Trump administration, said. "Rather the government is refusing to facilitate an abortion, which it is permitted to do.”
The case went before a federal court in California last week, but the judge said she couldn’t hear it because Doe was in Texas.
The judges at today's hearing – Karen LeCraft Henderson, Brett Kavanaugh, Patricia Millett – said they felt the urgency to settle this matter quickly because of the time crunch presented by Doe’s pregnancy.
“We are being pushed in a span of 24 hours to make a sweeping constitutional ruling in one direction or another,” Kavanaugh said.