Case Considers Unaccompanied Minor's Right To Have An Abortion

Oct 20, 2017
Originally published on October 20, 2017 5:11 pm

In a case that pits the Trump administration against a 17-year-old Mexican girl in the U.S. illegally, a panel of federal judges said Friday that she has a right to an abortion — but she's not being allowed to get the procedure yet.

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A 17-year-old girl who's in the country illegally may be a step closer to getting the abortion she has been seeking for weeks. She's in federal custody in Texas, and the Trump administration has been blocking the young woman from getting an abortion. Today, a panel of federal judges says she has a right to the procedure, but she is not being allowed to get it just yet. NPR's Sarah McCammon attended a hearing today in Washington and has an update.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: This morning, as a three-judge panel prepared to consider the case, protesters chanted outside the federal Department of Health and Human Services Building a few blocks away.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

MCCAMMON: They shouted, justice for Jane in Spanish and English. Jane Doe, as she's known in court papers, is an unaccompanied minor from Central America being held in a private facility in Texas that contracts with the department. She has a judge's permission to bypass a parental consent law in Texas, but the Trump administration has refused to allow her to leave to get an abortion. In court, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Brigitte Amiri said the young woman's movements are being tightly controlled.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIGITTE AMIRI: I don't think any of the minors in the shelter are going to school. But they do - they have been going on outings, and she has been prohibited from going on those things.

MCCAMMON: Amiri said the girl is not asking the government to pay for the abortion, only to allow her to be transported to an abortion provider.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMIRI: Here what we're talking about is them standing in the way. And all they need to do is get out of the way.

MCCAMMON: Amiri says the girl is about 15 weeks pregnant. Texas law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks. She says she's worried about the implications of this case not only for her client, but for other women in federal custody. Anti-abortion rights groups have also latched onto the case, accusing the ACLU of using the situation to advance its agenda. Catherine Dorsey, an attorney with the federal government, told the judges it's against Trump administration policy to facilitate abortions for unaccompanied minors.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CATHERINE DORSEY: Well, the rationale here is they're trying to promote childbirth and fetal life. And also, they are looking over the best interests of the child, where HHS is...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Which child? What child? The - why not the child...

DORSEY: The minor child, the minor child in HHS custody.

MCCAMMON: Dorsey said the agency would be willing to hand off custody of the young woman to what's known as a sponsor, who could facilitate the process of getting an abortion. A ruling issued this evening gives the government until the end of the month to find a sponsor for the girl, angering advocates who say she shouldn't have to wait any longer. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.