A Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D.C. ruled yesterday that the Trump administration could not legally block a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant from Central America from obtaining an abortion. After a monthlong legal battle, she underwent the procedure this morning, according to the Dallas News.
Because she is an unaccompanied minor, the teenager is under the protection of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. She initially obtained a judge’s permission to undergo the procedure on September 25 and had an abortion appointment scheduled for September 28, but administration officials have prevented her from leaving the privately-run facility in Brownsville, Texas in order to attend an abortion clinic for the past month. She had raised private funds for the procedure, but federal attorneys argued that they were looking out for the young woman's "best interest" and that the administration wants to "promote childbirth and fetal life" by preventing her from terminating the pregnancy.
Thanks to the appeals court judgement, a lower court judge issued an order requiring the Trump administration to transport the girl, or allow her to be transported, to receive the abortion. This latest ruling is a victory for empathy and common sense over ideology, reversing a previous decision giving the government until the end of October to find a sponsor who could take over custody of the girl and therefore give them a loophole to avoid "facilitating" the procedure. The government also argued that the girl should leave the U.S. if she wanted to obtain an abortion. The ACLU has been battling the Trump administration over this case for weeks, which is particularly time sensitive due to the fact that abortion is illegal in Texas after 20 weeks. The teen was around 15 weeks pregnant when the latest judgement was handed down.
Federal officials have tried to persuade the girl not to have the abortion and have required her to go to counseling at an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. As reported by Politico, this teen is not the first to have her abortion rights restricted by the Trump administration. Over the past seven months, the Health and Human Services Department has intervened to prevent abortions sought by girls at federally funded shelters on multiple occasions. In a press release, Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, said this case was part of a larger war. "With this case we have seen the astounding lengths this administration will go to block women from abortion care," she said. "We will not stop fighting until we have justice for every woman like Jane."
Through her court-appointed guardian, attorney Rochelle Garza, the teen released a statement telling her side of the story:
I'm a 17 year old girl that came to this country to make a better life for myself. My journey wasn't easy, but I came here with hope in my heart to build a life I can be proud of. I dream about studying, becoming a nurse, and one day working with the elderly.When I was detained, I was placed in a shelter for children. It was there that I was told I was pregnant. I knew immediately what was best for me then, as I do now - that I'm not ready to be a parent.
Thanks to my lawyers, Rochelle Garza and Christine Cortez, and with the help of Jane's Due Process, I went before a judge and was given permission to end my pregnancy without my parents' consent. I was nervous about appearing in court, but I was treated very kindly. I am grateful that the judge agreed with my decision and granted the bypass. While the government provides for most of my needs at the shelter, they have not allowed me to leave to get an abortion. Instead, they made me see a doctor that tried to convince me not to abort and to look at sonograms. People I don't even know are trying to make me change my mind. I made my decision and that is between me and God. Through all of this, I have never changed my mind.
No one should be shamed for making the right decision for themselves. I would not tell any other girl in my situation what they should do. That decision is hers and hers alone.I've been waiting for more than a month since I made my decision. It has been very difficult to wait in the shelter for news that the judges in Washington, D.C. have given me permission to proceed with my decision. I am grateful for this, and I ask that the government accept it. Please stop delaying my decision any longer.My lawyers have told me that people around the country have been calling and writing to show support for me. I am touched by this show of love from people I may never know and from a country I am just beginning to know - to all of you, thank you.This is my life, my decision. I want a better future. I want justice.
Top photo credit: Ardfern, Wikimedia Commons
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Molly McLaughlin is a travel and culture writer currently based in Mexico City. Her work has appeared in publications including Lonely Planet, Refinery29 and Ms. Magazine. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @mollysgmcl.