WASHINGTON ― A 17-year-old immigrant detained by the U.S. government may not be able to obtain an abortion after an appeals court temporarily halted a judge’s ruling that she must be allowed to undergo the procedure “promptly without delay.”
On Thursday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked part of the lower court’s ruling from the day before. The court announced that it will hold oral arguments on Friday over whether the Trump administration has the right to keep the teen, who entered the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor, from leaving a shelter and using her own money to undergo the procedure.
“The purpose of this administrative stay is 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,” reads the appeals court order.
The turnaround from the lower court ruling to the appeals court arguments was unusually quick. But the situation calls for urgency. The girl, called Jane Doe in court documents, is 15 weeks pregnant. She is being held in Texas, where abortion is banned after 20 weeks.
Just because she’s here illegally doesn’t mean she doesn’t have constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that the government must allow Jane Doe to leave custody on Thursday so she can seek counseling ― which Texas requires people to receive before having an abortion ― and then again on Friday or Saturday for the procedure.
The Trump administration decried the decision and appealed late Wednesday.
The appeals court order will allow Jane Doe to go to a pre-abortion counseling appointment, but halts the piece of the ruling requiring the government to allow her to get the procedure on Friday or Saturday.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Jane Doe, argues that the government is infringing on the teenager’s constitutional right to an abortion. The government sent her to a “crisis pregnancy center,” a religiously affiliated organization that tried to discourage her from having an abortion.
Under President Donald Trump, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has implemented policies against allowing abortions for the minors in its care. The government argued that undocumented minors in U.S. custody have no right to the procedure, and said Jane Doe could leave the country if she wanted to have an abortion.
Chutkan appeared to dismiss those arguments at the lower court hearing on Wednesday.
“Just because she’s here illegally doesn’t mean she doesn’t have constitutional rights,” she said.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Office of Refugee Resettlement, said Wednesday in a statement that Chutkan’s ruling “exceeds the U.S. Constitution and sets a dangerous precedent by opening our borders to any illegal children seeking taxpayer-supported, elective abortions.”
The situation goes beyond Jane Doe. Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Scott Lloyd, who opposes abortion, has personally visited a teenage girl to discourage her from terminating her pregnancy. He reportedly said he would release pregnant minors only for “pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling.”
In the past, minors have been allowed to leave shelters ― where they are typically held temporarily while they go through immigration proceedings ― to get abortions.
Jane Doe’s abortion would not be funded by taxpayers. Government funds are used only for procedures for victims of rape or incest, or if the life of the minor is at risk.