In a significant victory for reproductive freedom, immigrants, and constitutional rights, a federal appeals court has ruled that the federal government must allow an undocumented immigrant teen to obtain an abortion “without delay.” The ruling is the latest in a tumultuous legal battle between the ACLU and the Trump administration, which has blocked the teen (identified in court documents as “Jane Doe”) from traveling for an abortion procedure.
“Today’s decision rights a grave constitutional wrong by the government,” wrote Judge Patricia A. Millett in the opinion. The three judges who dissented were appointed by Republican presidents, the Washington Post reports.
The girl is about 15 weeks pregnant and according to state law in Texas, where she entered the country, it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks. State law also requires at least two appointments in which she must view an ultrasound and undergo a mandatory waiting period before she can receive an abortion. She is being held in a federally-funded shelter and had gained permission by a state judge to bypass the state’s guardianship consent laws in order to obtain an abortion.
But the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, the organization managing the girl’s welfare, has taken on a strong anti-abortion stance under the Trump administration. According to court documents, ORR head Scott Lloyd has personally dissuaded at least one vulnerable girl from terminating her pregnancy. The ACLU also noted in its argument that the ORR allowed the girl to visit a religious crisis pregnancy center that spreads lies and misinformation about abortion—but would not allow her to fulfill her constitutional right to seek an abortion.
Last Wednesday, DC federal judge Tanya Chutkan asked the Trump administration to grant the girl’s request “promptly and without delay,” saying in court, “Just because she’s here illegally doesn’t mean she doesn’t have constitutional rights.” On Friday, after the Department of Justice filed an appeal, a three-member panel of the appeal court delayed the abortion until the end of October. But the ACLU appealed, asking the full appeals court to weigh on the ruling, according to the Washington Post. On Tuesday, without hearing oral arguments, the appeals court reinstated the lower court’s ruling and allowed the girl to seek an abortion.
In its appeal, the DOJ argued that it had “strong and constitutionally legitimate interests in promoting childbirth, in refusing to facilitate abortion, and in not providing incentives for pregnant minors to illegally cross the border to obtain elective abortions while in federal custody.”
“Surely the mere act of entry into the United States without documentation does not mean that an immigrant’s body is no longer her or his own,” Millett wrote in the opinion. “Nor can the sanction for unlawful entry be forcing a child to have a baby.”