DOJ Tries to Stop Abortion for Undocumented Teen

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A federal judge ruled in favor of a undocumented teenage immigrant’s right to an abortion on Wednesday after the Department of Justice’s efforts to prevent that outcome. Judge Tanya Chutkan, who handed down the ruling, said she was “astounded” that the Trump administration would try to block the teen’s procedure.

The teen was stopped during an attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in September and taken into federal custody. The ACLU says that federal authorities at the Health and Human Services-funded shelter in Texas where the girl has been staying have not allowed her to go to the abortion clinic. Further, they tried to talk the girl out of the procedure, taking her to a Christian crisis center where she received an ultrasound against her will.

The Department of Justice argued in court that because “Jane Doe” is a minor without immigration papers, she is not guaranteed the same constitutional protections awarded to all American women by Roe v. Wade. The Washington Post reports:

During the hearing Wednesday, Chutkan asked Justice Department lawyer Scott Stewart whether he thought illegal immigrants had constitutional rights and whether he believes that the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, which guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion, is still the “law of the land.”

Stewart acknowledged the ruling but said the government views this case differently because the teen is an undocumented immigrant in federal custody. He signaled that undocumented minors do not have a constitutional right to an elective abortion in federal custody, unless it is a medical emergency, and also said immigrants here illegally have “minimal” protections in this country.

“I’m not going to give you a concession on that, Your Honor,” he said.

The judge laughed. “This is remarkable,” she said.

Chutkan ruled that the teen, who was represented by ACLU attorneys, had constitutional rights regardless of her immigration status. She added that the young woman would “suffer irreparable injury” if she were not allowed to receive the procedure. Continues the Washington Post:

By refusing to allow the girl to be transported to have an abortion, Chutkan said, the government appeared to be offering the teenager two options: voluntarily return to a nation she fled to have an abortion; or carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

“I am astounded by that position,” Chutkan said.

Brigitte Amiri, a senior ACLU staff lawyer and attorney for the girl, says that “It’s unprecedented, it’s unconstitutional and it’s also unconscionable. Blocking access to abortion for unaccompanied minors is downright cruel.”  In her ruling, Judge Chutkan wrote that “just because she’s here illegally doesn’t mean she doesn’t have constitutional rights,” though she did not extend her ruling to all minors in government custody.

However, on Wednesday it was announced that the Department of Justice has appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Amiri said she is concerned “about the lengths that the federal government is willing to go to prevent Jane Doe from getting her abortion,” adding that the appeal could be a tactic to delay the case until the girl can no longer obtain the procedure—she is about 15 weeks pregnant, and abortion is banned in most cases under Texas law after 20 weeks.


Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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