Abortion

Undocumented 17-Year-Old Must Delay Abortion, Court Rules

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She decided to end her pregnancy, but Texas law requires a minor to get parental consent or a judicial waiver to do so. She obtained a waiver, but the government prevented her from going to any abortion-related appointments, the American Civil Liberties Union said in court documents, and forced her to visit a religiously affiliated crisis pregnancy center where she was asked to view a sonogram.

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An undocumented 17-year-old being held by the federal government is seeking an abortion.

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President Trump has worked to restrict abortions since his first days in office by expanding the so-called global gag rule, which withholds American funding from international organizations that discuss or perform abortions; taking aim at Planned Parenthood funding; and appointing several leaders who are anti-abortion, including E. Scott Lloyd, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the health department, and one of the defendants in the Jane Doe case.

The federal government said that it was not its role to facilitate abortion, and that the teenager still had the option of returning to her home country.

“Ms. Doe has options for leaving federal custody — either by requesting a voluntary departure to her home country (which the federal government is willing to expedite if requested) or by being placed in the custody of a sponsor,” the defendants stated in a memorandum on Tuesday. “Given these options, the government is not causing Ms. Doe to carry a pregnancy to term against her will.”

On Wednesday, a federal judge ordered the government to allow the teenager to get an abortion.

Tanya S. Chutkan, the United States District Court judge who initiated the temporary restraining order, said she was “astounded” by the government’s position.

“She can leave the country or she cannot get her abortion, those are her options?”

The government next argued for the right to appoint the teenager with a sponsor, which would release her from government custody, and said in court documents that the process of securing a sponsor would not unduly burden the teenager’s right to an abortion.

On Friday, the appeals court agreed.

The health department has until Oct. 31 to find a suitable sponsor; if it does, Jane Doe would be able to have an abortion. If she is not released to a sponsor by then, the government has the option of appealing once more.

The 11-day timeline to find a sponsor “seems far-fetched,” said Brigitte Amiri, one of the A.C.L.U. lawyers representing the teenager.

Sponsors are typically family members, according to the health department’s website, who help care for a child who has entered the United States illegally without their parents — often because the child is fleeing an abusive or violent situation.

The vetting process, which includes a background check, can take months, Ms. Amiri said, and earlier attempts to find a sponsor for Jane Doe were unsuccessful.

“They kicked the can down the road, and in this case they kicked the woman down the road,” Dr. Stanwood said. “They are just delaying her care to no end but their own ideology.”

The health department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The teenager will be 16 weeks and five days pregnant at the end of October, according to the nonprofit legal organization Jane’s Due Process, which has been working with the A.C.L.U. If the appeals process continues into November, the teenager will reach the 20-week mark, which would prevent her from having an elective abortion in Texas.

The sooner the teenager can have the abortion, “the safer it will be for her,” said Dr. Hal C. Lawrence, the executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who practiced obstetrics for nearly three decades.

As the uterus gets bigger, he added, the walls of the uterus get thinner, which increases the possibility of perforation and puts women at risk of additional blood loss during an abortion.

Health risks aside, delaying an abortion can cause emotional trauma.

“Women don’t just wake up one morning and decide they’re going to have an abortion,” Dr. Lawrence said. “And so to make her continue to struggle and be denied access to something which is legal — all that does is increase the psychological stress for her, and that’s not healthy.”

The United States has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the developed world, and abortion has been shown to be safer for women than childbirth.

The A.C.L.U. is considering several options, including further appeals.

For the teenager, the process has been exhausting, Ms. Amiri said.

“She talks about feeling very tired.”

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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