Judge throws out suit filed by unaccompanied minor seeking abortion

A federal judge threw out a suit Wednesday from an unaccompanied minor from Central America who sued the Trump administration for denying her access to an abortion during her detention in a federally funded immigration facility in Texas.

While the ACLU, which represents the minor, Jane Doe, in the case, is still reviewing its options, she will be forced to carry this pregnancy to term unless a court intervenes, according to Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.


“No one should have to go through that,” Amiri said.

In the ruling, the judge noted that the Trump administration can’t legally prevent unaccompanied minors from getting abortions. But because the plaintiff was in Texas, the judge held, her case shouldn’t have been heard in California, where it had been joined with another federal case challenging religious-affiliated detention centers denying abortions, according to the ACLU.

“Today’s District Court ruling comes as a serious disappointment, because it delays Jane Doe’s abortion even further,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement.

Texas law requires minors get parental permission or a judicial waiver before undergoing the procedure. Doe went to court and got a judicial waiver, but federal authorities refused to allow her to leave the facility for pre-abortion medical appointments.

Authorities also forced her to get a sonogram and made her visit a religiously affiliated “crisis pregnancy center” to get counseling about keeping the pregnancy. Since March, the Trump administration has forbidden federally funded shelters from taking “any action that facilitates” abortion for unaccompanied minors without approval from the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), who handles custody of most unaccompanied minors.

“The Trump administration has thrown down the gauntlet and has directly interfered with abortion for unaccompanied minors,” Amiri told VICE News. “This is directly in the Trump administration’s hands. They have implemented these policies.”


The federal Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the ORR, said that the safety of unaccompanied minor immigrants is its “paramount concern,” but declined to comment specifically on their stance regarding abortions in these cases.

“While the child is in our custody, our goal is to provide food, shelter and care to her under federal statute,” a spokesperson said. “In this specific case, we are providing excellent care to the adolescent girl and her unborn child, who remain under our care until the mother’s release.”

Last week, attorneys from the ACLU added Doe’s case and others like it to the ongoing California case, which was filed in June 2016, arguing that allowing federally funded religious-based immigration facilities to deny access to birth control and abortions was a violation the First Amendment. The ruling today on Doe’s claim does not affect that case.

Amiri says her legal team is still reviewing the Doe decision, but intends to keep fighting for Doe and other unaccompanied minors who have been denied abortions during immigration detention.

But as each week passes without access to an abortion, Amiri says the risk to Doe’s physical and mental health increases.

“In a story straight from dystopian fiction, a young woman is being held against her will, intimidated and shamed for her decisions, forced to undergo coercive counseling and medical procedures, and physically barred from ending an unwanted pregnancy,” said Susan Hays, legal director of Jane’s Due Process, a Texas legal nonprofit working on Doe’s case, in a statement.