Texas Backs Trump Agency in Holding Undocumented Abortion-Seeking Minor "Hostage"

Federal agency sent minor to crisis pregnancy center instead

Attorney General Ken Paxton says undocumented, unaccompanied minors don't deserve the right to abortion care.
Attorney General Ken Paxton says undocumented, unaccompanied minors don't deserve the right to abortion care. (Photo by John Anderson)

Doubling up on his red meat, Attorney General Ken Paxton declared in a court brief this week in support of the Trump administration’s decision to prevent an undocumented minor from obtaining abortion in the state that Texas “must not become a sanctuary state for abortions.”

The case now hangs in legal limbo after a California-based federal judge on Wednesday refused to hear the emergency legal plea requesting she allow the procedure.

According to court records, 17-year-old Jane Doe, who fled from Central America unaccompanied, was blocked from accessing abortion care while at a federally funded migrant center in Brownsville. Instead, Doe was sent to a religious, anti-choice crisis pregnancy center, where she was “forced” to look at a sonogram. “Defendants have been talking to me about my pregnancy. I feel like they are trying to coerce me to carry my pregnancy to term,” said Doe of officials with the the Office of Refugee Resettlement, under the umbrella of the U.S. Health and Human Services. Doe wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from her family; however, she claims ORR officials revealed her pregnancy to her mother and have pushed her to do the same.

The young girl obtained the necessary court authorization (called a “judicial bypass”) for the abortion and had scheduled a state-mandated sonogram appointment with a physician for Sept. 28. The procedure itself was scheduled for the next day. But Doe says the shelter forbade her from attending the appointment, even when her judge-appointed guardian offered to transport her. Susan Hays, legal director of Jane’s Due Process, helped Doe secure her judicial bypass. Doe’s story isn’t a one-off incident, rather it appears to fit a pattern, said Hays. “From prior experience we knew ORR was acting really strange when it comes to reproductive health care, so we anticipated that something bad could happen and were on high alert,” she said.

In March, the group similarly aided a pregnant unaccompanied minor in securing a judicial bypass only to discover ORR had ordered that she be prevented from taking her second dose of abortion medication. And ORR Director Scott Lloyd, an anti-choice figure appointed by Trump in March, made at least one personal visit to a young woman who was seeking abortion in an effort to dissuade her otherwise. According to documents sent by Hays, non-medical, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers fill the list of ORR-approved counseling centers. “We learned that ORR staff were asking [Doe] what she was going to name her baby and emotionally haranguing her to talk to her mother,” said Hays.

The ACLU of Northern California included Doe in their 2016 lawsuit against ORR for not providing the full range of health services, in the hopes of receiving an emergency action to allow her to proceed with her abortion and a nationwide injunction to ensure ORR doesn’t block any others in her shoes. On Oct. 11, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler failed to grant the temporary order because the girl lives in Texas; however, the ACLU vows to keep fighting.

“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 Reproductive Freedom Project. “Although the court found it couldn’t hear the case, it was careful to explain that the government has no business blocking Jane Doe’s abortion. ... We’re not giving up.”

Doe is estimated to be 14 weeks pregnant; Texas law prohibits abortion after 20 weeks, making the court order particularly time sensitive. Many of the minors like Doe are escaping violence and abuse, the civil liberties group points out. “The Trump administration’s action is shocking – a young woman is essentially being held hostage and forced by federal officials to continue a pregnancy against her will,” said Amiri. “And this case isn’t the only one – nationally, the federal government is obstructing young immigrant women’s access to abortion.”

Paxton led six other states, including Louisiana and Oklahoma, in defending ORR in a court brief. “If ‘Doe’ prevails in this case, the ruling will create a right to abortion for anyone on Earth who enters the U.S. illegally. And with that right, countless others undoubtedly would follow," wrote Paxton. However, the feds are legally required to provide unaccompanied minors with basic necessities, such as housing and medical care, including family planning services and abortion.

Hays believes Paxton acted “unethically” when he blasted out a public email this week announcing his opposition to the Doe case and revealing sensitive information, including her South Texas location. “Technically, as AG he’s charged with ensuring the confidentiality of bypass cases,” she said. “You don’t talk about it publicly and you sure don’t go and send a press release about it. It’s unconscionable.”

For more, check out our War on Women's Health page.

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Reproductive Rights, Jane's Due Process, Ken Paxton, Susan Hays, ACLU, abortion rights

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