Pregnant Teen In Immigration Jail Won’t Seek Abortion After All, But Larger Battle Looms

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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A pregnant 14-year-old illegal alien who precipitated a legal fight over abortion access for detained immigrations has chosen not to terminate her pregnancy, but a larger dispute still remains.

The teen’s decision notwithstanding, further conflicts over abortions for detained immigrants will likely follow, as the Trump administration refuses to facilitate abortions for persons in its custody.

“After a detailed discussion with petitioner, this court concluded that petitioner no longer was interested in an abortion,” a new ruling reads. “Therefore, this court will dismiss the instant matter.”

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The alien, held at a federal facility in Texas and known in court papers as “Jane Doe,” learned she was pregnant in late January, and requested assistance in procuring an abortion. She was referred to Garza & Garza Law, PLLC, a south Texas law practice that represented several immigrant minors in related controversies.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) refused to produce Doe for her lawyers or a state court, and released hand-written notes from Doe withdrawing her request for an abortion. The Trump administration then sought to remove the case from the state court to a federal court. A federal district judge denied their request, so the government appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit ordered Doe to appear before the district judge to make her wishes known. Though the court was united as to the result, Judge Edith Jones savaged her colleagues in a separate opinion, accusing the courts and Doe’s lawyers of exploiting immigrants to expand abortion rights.

“Doe is a pawn in a fight for control over the federal government’s relationship with unaccompanied alien children who are in custody because they haven’t been legally admitted to the United States,” she wrote, adding that the attorneys “have demonstrated by word and deed that their goal is to foster abortions.”

Though Doe’s decision ends her case, a broader conflict over abortion access for detained immigrants looms.

A similar case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Oct. 2017, involving a 17-year-old minor who was also held in a federal facility in Texas. The full court allowed the procedure to go forward, and the minor obtained an abortion before the Justice Department appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Government lawyers subsequently sought sanctions against the alien’s attorneys.

The justices have not yet acted on that request.

Other cases presenting this issue are likely to emerge, prompting further challenges from pro-choice groups. Time constraints can make the disposition of these cases difficult, preventing courts from reaching the underlying substantive issues.

In her concurrence in the Doe case, Jones urged the Trump administration to confront these issues directly, rather than arguing with pro-choice groups about procedural arcana.

“At some point, the government needs to confront the antecedent issue raised powerfully in Judge Henderson’s recent dissent,” she wrote. “[W]here is there a ‘constitutional right’ for unaccompanied, inadmissible aliens who have never formally ‘entered’ this country to obtain abortions in the United States?”

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