Pregnant immigrant in Texas will test abortion access under Trump

5:45 p.m Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 Texas News & Politics
American-Statesman Staff
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argues that a pregnant teenager in the United States illegally does not have a constitutional right to an abortion. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A pregnant 17-year-old, in federal custody in Texas after being apprehended while crossing the Mexican border illegally, is seeking an emergency court order to allow her to have an abortion that has been thwarted by Trump administration officials.

Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, representing the teenager identified only as Jane Doe, will appear Wednesday before a federal judge in California to request an order allowing the teen to obtain an abortion as soon as possible.

The lawyers also will request a wider order barring Trump administration officials from “obstructing or interfering with abortion access” for other pregnant minors who were arrested after crossing the border without their parents.

“Ms. Doe is not the only unaccompanied minor who has recently experienced obstruction to abortion access at the hands of defendants and, absent this court’s intervention, she will not be the last,” the ACLU lawyers argued.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton entered the fray Tuesday, filing a brief urging U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler to deny Jane Doe’s “radical request,” arguing that crossing the border illegally does not provide immigrants with broad rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“No federal court has ever declared that unlawfully present aliens with no substantial ties to this country have a constitutional right to abortion on demand,” Paxton said.

Paxton, who said Doe was being held in a government-funded shelter in Brownsville, also argued that a court victory by Doe would create “a right to abortion for anyone on Earth who entered the United States illegally, no matter how briefly,” drawing additional migrants and placing Texas at risk of becoming “a sanctuary state for abortions.”

Joined by six states — Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina — Paxton added that there was a larger principle at stake.

“The states have a legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life, as well as an interest in promoting respect for human life at all stages in the pregnancy,” he told the judge.

Officials with the ACLU and Janes Due Process, a nonprofit that helps teenagers gain access to abortion, argue that Jane Doe’s experience is part of a larger pattern by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which under President Donald Trump has refused to allow unaccompanied minors to receive abortions, referring them instead to crisis pregnancy centers, which counsel women against abortions, often from a religious perspective.

Despite receiving a judicial bypass from a Texas judge, which allows minors to receive an abortion if their parents are not willing or able to provide consent, Jane Doe has had to cancel two abortion appointments because federal officials refused to let her leave a government-funded shelter, said Susan Hays, legal director for Janes Due Process.

“Trump administration officials are literally holding her hostage,” ACLU lawyer Brigitte Amiri said. “The interference by government officials about the most intimate and personal decision a woman can make is horrific. It’s also blatantly unconstitutional.”

Lawyers for the teenager argue that without court intervention, “Doe will be pushed further into her pregnancy, which increases the risks associated with the procedure, and at some point will be forced to carry to term against her will.”

Wednesday’s hearing will be in San Francisco because the ACLU is seeking to add Jane Doe’s case to an existing lawsuit challenging Trump administration contracts with U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops-affiliated agencies to provide care to unaccompanied immigrant minors.

The original lawsuit argues that the agencies are violating a federal law requiring them to provide minors with access to contraception and abortion.

Paxton, however, argued that siding with Jane Doe would have far-reaching consequences.

If the teenager is found to have a constitutional right to an abortion, Paxton argued, “it is hard to imagine why she could be denied any other constitutional rights — such as the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” a notion the federal courts have already rejected, he added.

“To hold that Doe enjoys a constitutional right to an abortion in this case would undermine these and others cases holding that individuals in Doe’s circumstances possess only narrow constitutional protections. The court should decline to take that dramatic step,” Paxton told the judge.

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