Court delays abortion for undocumented teen in detention

Story highlights

  • The court sets an October 31 deadline for the government to find her a sponsor
  • ACLU files emergency petition for a rehearing en banc, which means by the full court

(CNN)A federal appeals court Friday ruled that an undocumented teenage immigrant held in detention in Texas may obtain an abortion, but it delayed the process, giving the Trump administration 11 days to find a sponsor to take custody of the girl beforehand.

The ruling set a deadline of October 31 for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to get a sponsor for the girl, who is a minor.
The 17-year-old, identified in court documents only as "Jane Doe," came to the United States without her parents and is staying in a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to court documents.
    "If a sponsor is secured and J.D. is released from HHS custody to the sponsor, HHS agrees that J.D. then will be lawfully able, if she chooses, to obtain an abortion on her own pursuant to the relevant state law," according to the order from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
    Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement Friday saying he was "disappointed" with the court's decision because it gives the federal government time to find a sponsor for the teen "so she can be taken for an abortion."
    "Unlawfully-present aliens with no substantial ties to the U.S. do not have a right to abortion on demand," Paxton said. "Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions."
    Friday's decision had been issued by a panel of three circuit judges, out of which there was one dissent.
    On Sunday, the ACLU, which is representing the girl, filed an emergency petition requesting a rehearing with the entire bench of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
    "Jane Doe" is 15.5 weeks pregnant, according to ACLU's petition. "Every additional week the government delays her abortion increases the risks associated with the procedure," it stated.
    Also, Texas law restricts most abortions after 20 weeks.
    "Under the panel's order, she will be pushed into November, pushing her closer to the point at which abortion is barred under Texas law," according to the ACLU.
    The ACLU says that the teen is not seeking assistance from the government to obtain the abortion, as her court-appointed representatives will transport her to the health facility and private funds will pay for the procedure.
    "Our government has held her in this unlawful position for almost a month; this Court should not allow this injustice to continue any longer," the ACLU stated.
    On Thursday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals issued an administrative stay of a ruling that would have allowed the teenager to obtain an abortion. That ruling, from a federal judge on Wednesday, ordered the government to allow the girl to get an abortion after the Trump administration denied her access to one.
    In a two-page decision, DC District Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered officials at the Department of Health and Human Services to allow the teen to be transported by a guardian or attorney "promptly and without delay" to an abortion provider to obtain state-mandated counseling and then to obtain the abortion.
    The order also barred those officials from "interfering or obstructing" the girl's access, from forcing her to make her decision known to anyone and from "retaliating" against her and the facility where she is in regards to her decision.
    But the Court of Appeals issued a stay on the ruling Thursday to "give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion" filed by the government. That ruling came Friday.
    The ACLU filed a lawsuit on October 13 against the administration.
    "This administration has no shame and no regard for a woman's health or decisions," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Weeks ago, our client decided to end her pregnancy. Her decision has been disregarded and she's now been dragged into a protracted legal battle over her ability to get the care she needs."
    The HHS division that presumably would be responsible for finding a sponsor -- the Administration for Children and Families -- issued a statement Friday night saying, "For however much time we are given, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and HHS will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies in our facilities, and we will defend human dignity for all in our care."