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Federal judge says government must allow an undocumented teenager to have an abortion

Lawyers at the Department of Justice said the girl, who crossed the border illegally and is in a refugee center in Texas, did not have the right to an abortion.
19 Oct 2017 – 11:23 AM EDT
The outside of the E. Barrett Prettyman court in Washington, D.C. Crédito: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered the Trump administration Wednesday to allow an undocumented pregnant teenager in federal custody to have an abortion and said she was "astounded" that the government had tried to prevent the procedure in the first place.

"I am astounded by that position," said D.C. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, after attorney general Jeff Sessions suggested that the 17-year-old woman who crossed the border without papers last month did not have the constitutional right to an abortion unless it was a medical emergency.

Jane Doe, as the young woman is referred to in court documents, is being held in a refugee center in Brownsville, Texas. Following Wednesday's decision, she is expected to attend a mandatory session about abortions Thursday before the procedure on Friday.

The Justice Department appealed the case late Wednesday, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to prevent the 17-year-old from having an “irreversible elective abortion” while the appeal is pending.

Now the pregnant Central American teenager is at the center of a legal dispute over whether unaccompanied minor immigrants have the constitutional right to abortions in the United States.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Trump administration was forcing Doe to continue the pregnancy against her will.

Her only other option, according to the judge, was to return to the nation she fled to perform an abortion. It is believed Jane Doe is about 14-and-a-half weeks pregnant; Texas only allows abortions until week 20.

The ACLU also alleged that federal officials visited the young woman to seek to persuade her not to have the procedure.

That's why the union decided to sue and petition for an order to allow Doe access to an abortion, as well as a preliminary injunction to prevent the federal government from blocking other unaccompanied minors from accessing the procedure. They filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services and the heads of two divisions within the department: the Administration for Children & Families and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

"Despite the Trump administration’s attempt to stop her, Jane Doe can now get the abortion care she needs. We’ll keep fighting so that no one is forced to continue a pregnancy against her will," said the ACLU.