Court wrestles with undocumented teen’s abortion request

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday appeared unconvinced the government can block an undocumented 17-year-old girl who is in federal custody from getting an abortion.

The government argues the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can choose not to “facilitate” the teen’s access to an abortion. But Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush appointee, asked if women in federal prison, under Supreme Court precedent, have the right to obtain an abortion.

Department of Justice Attorney Catherine Dorsey said they do have the right because women in prison have no other way to obtain one. But the immigrant teen is different, Dorsey said, because she has the right to voluntarily leave the United States.

But Kavanaugh responded that, by Dorsey’s own definition, the government would be facilitating the abortion of prisoners.

The Trump administration has created a major controversy by appealing a district court decision ordering the government to “promptly and without delay” allow the undocumented teen, known in court documents only as Jane Doe, to visit an abortion provider near the Texas detention facility where she is being held.

The D.C Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stayed that decision to hear the government’s appeal in arguments that were fast-tracked on Friday. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is fighting the government on the teen’s behalf, and stressed the need for the court to act quickly.

“What we’re talking about here is an unaccompanied immigrant minor, 17 years old, who’s been forced to remain pregnant against her will for three weeks because the government has blocked her abortion decision,” ACLU Attorney Brigitte Amiri told the court.

“Every day she remains pregnant takes a toll on her physical and emotional health,” she said.

Amiri said Jane Doe received a judicial waiver to the Texas state law requiring minors to obtain parental consent for an abortion on Sept. 25 and that she is now 15 weeks pregnant. Texas bans abortions after 20 weeks.

“If we get so far she’ll be forced to carry the pregnancy to term against her will,” Amiri said.

Kavanaugh asked whether the country Jane Doe came from allows abortions. Dorsey said that information is in a sealed record, but added that she believes it does not.

The court’s decision in…

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