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Another Emergency Order Sought for Immigrant Minor Denied Abortion Care

Tina Vasquez

“Politics aside, this is the administration unlawfully and shamefully forcing a 17-year-old to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term against her will."

A federal district court in Washington will hear arguments Wednesday in Garza v. Hargan, the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) lawsuit seeking an emergency order requiring the Trump administration to stop obstructing an unaccompanied immigrant minor, Jane Doe, from obtaining abortion care. 

Jane Doe, who is being held at a Brownsville, Texas, shelter, is being prevented from accessing abortion care by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the federal agency overseeing migrant youth crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without a guardian. The young woman has been in the shelter around six weeks, longer than normal, and advocates fear ORR is purposefully holding her until she surpasses the 20-week mark in her pregnancy, leaving her unable to access an abortion at all.

This was all but confirmed by Politico this morning, which reported that the Trump administration has filed its arguments in Jane Doe’s case ahead of today’s federal court hearing and the administration is arguing that “the federal government has no obligation to release an undocumented pregnant teen from a federally funded shelter in Texas to have an abortion.”

This is one of many unlawful hurdles Jane Doe has encountered when trying to access the medical procedure. Texas law requires minors get parental consent or a judicial waiver before they may obtain an abortion, which Jane Doe obtained by going to court with the assistance of an attorney and an appointed guardian. While the young woman has legal authority to obtain an abortion, the federal government now has stepped in to block her from being transported to a clinic, further delaying her care. The 17-year-old has been forced to miss two appointments; has been required to visit a crisis pregnancy center, or anti-choice fake clinic, to undergo counseling to continue the pregnancy; and has had a sonogram conducted against her will by non-medical personnel.

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Jane Doe’s case is emblematic of “anti-choice fanaticism” being ushered into the U.S. immigration system by the Trump administration and its radical abortion rights opponents. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appears to have changed its policy regarding the detainment of pregnant people and is no longer immediately releasing them, leading some women, featured in a complaint against ICE, to experience complications in their pregnancy, including miscarriage.

ORR’s practice under the Trump administration of blocking teens from abortion care at all costs affects vulnerable pregnant people detained in these shelters, many of whom are pregnant as a result of rape. But the groundwork for these anti-choice measures began under the Bush administration, which restructured the immigration system, giving ORR, which is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), legal custody over unaccompanied immigrant minors after two shelter workers helped a young person access abortion.

Unaccompanied immigrant minors in ORR custody had their rights further stripped away by the Obama administration, which was sued by the ACLU in June 2016 for providing millions of dollars in federal funding to religious organizations that were tasked with providing care to unaccompanied immigrant minors, but which were allowed by the government “to refuse on religious grounds to follow the law that requires them to provide these young people with access to contraception and abortion, even if the minor has been raped,” the ACLU reported.

In March 2017, the Trump administration implemented a revised policy “that allows [shelters] to wield an unconstitutional veto power over unaccompanied immigrant minors’ access to abortion,” according to court documents. This directive explicitly prevents unaccompanied immigrant minors in their care from obtaining abortions by prohibiting all federally funded shelters from taking “‘any action that facilitates’ abortion access to unaccompanied minors in their care without ‘direction and approval’” from ORR director, Scott Lloyd. 

According to advocates, Lloyd is using government resources to personally fly to shelters to “counsel” pregnant people in ORR custody against seeking abortion. He has also instructed ORR deputy director, Jonathan White, that another minor in custody in Arizona get an ultrasound and counseling at Choices Pregnancy Centers, a crisis pregnancy center, which comprise almost all of the approved counseling centers listed by the ORR when minors are requesting abortion care.

Today’s hearing could have fear-reaching implications for unaccompanied immigrant minors in ORR custody, and lawmakers are taking notice.

On Monday, Reps. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), sent a joint letter to HHS acting secretary Eric Hargan demanding to know why unaccompanied immigrant children have been refused critical health care services.

“Politics aside, this is the administration unlawfully and shamefully forcing a 17-year-old to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term against her will,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “Jane Doe is only the most recent case in a line of incidents in which ORR has imposed their ideological agenda on girls and denied them their constitutionally protected rights to health care.”

Lofgren and O’Rourke, who is challenging Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for his seat, asked that HHS officials respond to seven inquiries, including how many unaccompanied immigrant minors have been denied access to reproductive health care since January 20; what the formal ORR policy is regarding unaccompanied immigrant minors and abortion access; and what ORR’s formal policy is on unaccompanied immigrant minors who are reporting their pregnancies as a result of sexual assault.

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