Appeals Court Sets Terms For Abortion For Teen Immigrant

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The federal appeals court for the District of Columbia has ruled that a teen who is detained because she is in the country illegally can transferred to the custody of a sponsor and then have an abortion if she chooses. Susan Walsh/AP hide caption

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Susan Walsh/AP

Updated at 10:15 p.m. ET

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has ruled that a detained teenage immigrant may not obtain an abortion until a government-approved sponsor can be secured by the end of the month.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit split 2-1 on the ruling.

The case involves a 17-year-old who is referred to in court documents only as “Jane Doe.” She came to this country illegally, discovered she was pregnant, and is seeking to terminate her pregnancy while she is detained in Texas in a private facility for unaccompanied minors supervised by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Lawyers for the government argue that it isn’t obligated to help her get an abortion because the administration wants to promote child birth and fetal life.

The attorneys told the court that the government isn’t interfering with the minor’s right to obtain an abortion which is guaranteed by the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade. But HHS officials have refused to transport her or release her into the custody of her guardian to obtain the abortion.

The federal appeals court has indicated that the young woman has a right to get an abortion and the court is giving the Department of Health and Human Services until October 31 to approve a sponsor so that the government need not facilitate the procedure.

“If a sponsor is secured and J.D. is released from HHS custody to the sponsor, HHS agrees that J.D. then will be lawfully able, if she chooses, to obtain an abortion on her own pursuant to the relevant state law,” the judges wrote.

But they added if a sponsor is not secured and the minor is not released to a sponsor by Oct. 31, then the matter will return to the courts.

“There are no winners in cases like these,” said Judge Patricia Millet said in a 10-page dissenting opinion. “But there sure are losers. As of today, J.D. has already been forced by the government to continue an unwanted pregnancy for almost four weeks, and now, as a result of this order, must continue to carry that pregnancy for multiple more weeks,” she added.

In a statement, American Civil Liberties lawyer Brigitte Amiri said, “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.”

The ruling comes after the appeals panel temporarily blocked a lower court ruling allowing the minor to seek an abortion “without delay.”

The lower court ruling basically endorsed a Texas state judge’s decision to allow the minor to seek an abortion. The procedure is to be paid for by the minor or her supporters.

The Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released this statement:

“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.”

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