Judge won’t or­der of­fi­cials to al­low abor­tion for im­mi­grant

The Mercury News - - Local News - By Sud­hin Thanawala and No­maan Mer­chant The As­so­ci­ated Press No­maan Mer­chant re­ported from Hous­ton.

A fed­eral judge in San Fran­cisco said Wed­nes­day that the govern­ment can­not pre­vent a preg­nant 17-year-old at a Texas fa­cil­ity for unac­com­pa­nied im­mi­grant chil­dren from get­ting an abor­tion, but de­clined to is­sue an or­der that would bar fed­eral of­fi­cials from in­ter­fer­ing in the girl’s ac­cess to the pro­ce­dure.

U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Lau­rel Beeler said the le­gal chal­lenge on be­half of the girl by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia was not filed in the right court.

The rul­ing al­lows the girl’s at­tor­neys to file a new law­suit seek­ing the same or­der in an­other fed­eral court district. Brigitte Amiri, a se­nior staff at­tor­ney with the ACLU, said the group hadn’t de­cided its next step, but would con­tinue to fight for the girl’s right to an abor­tion.

“A first-year law stu­dent un­der­stands that it is un­con­sti­tu­tional for the govern­ment to ban abor­tion,” she said. “The le­gal claim is pretty straight­for­ward.”

The ACLU says the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices is re­fus­ing to let the girl be taken for an abor­tion. The girl may be up to 14 weeks’ preg­nant, Rochelle Garza, a lawyer ap­pointed to rep­re­sent the girl’s le­gal in­ter­ests, told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Tues­day. Texas law pro­hibits most abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks.

In her rul­ing, Beeler said there was “no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion” for re­strict­ing the girl’s ac­cess to an abor­tion.

“The govern­ment may not want to fa­cil­i­tate abor­tion,” Beeler wrote. “But it can­not block it. It is do­ing that here.”

Beeler, how­ever, said the girl’s le­gal chal­lenge be­longed in a new law­suit, not­ing that the girl — iden­ti­fied only as Jane Doe — was in Texas, not in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The ACLU had sought to amend an ex­ist­ing law­suit pend­ing be­fore Beeler to in­clude Jane Doe’s case.

U.S. lawyers rep­re­sent­ing HHS ar­gued against that, say­ing the orig­i­nal law­suit claimed the agency was vi­o­lat­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion by al­low­ing re­li­gious groups to al­legedly refuse ac­cess to abor­tion.

Unac­com­pa­nied Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren ap­pre­hended at the U.S.-Mex­ico border are gen­er­ally turned over to fa­cil­i­ties run by pri­vate op­er­a­tors on be­half of HHS. Many fa­cil­i­ties are af­fil­i­ated with re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions that op­pose abor­tion, such as the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops. In this case, govern­ment lawyers said the 17-year-old was not be­ing held in a fa­cil­ity with a re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion.

A lawyer for the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice, Peter Phipps, said at a hear­ing Wed­nes­day that the govern­ment might pro­pose hav­ing Jane Doe’s case heard in Texas or Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Garza said the teen is from Cen­tral Amer­ica, like most peo­ple caught cross­ing the U.S.-Mex­ico border with­out le­gal per­mis­sion. She de­clined to give the girl’s name or iden­tify the spe­cific coun­try where she was from, cit­ing the girl’s pri­vacy, but said that the girl wanted an abor­tion in part be­cause her par­ents had abused an­other si­b­ling who was preg­nant.

With Garza’s help, the girl ob­tained a ju­di­cial waiver un­der a Texas law re­quir­ing a mi­nor seek­ing an abor­tion to get con­sent from a par­ent. But staff at the fa­cil­ity where she’s be­ing held re­fused to take her to ap­point­ments or let the at­tor­ney take her, even though pri­vate groups that sup­port abor­tion rights have raised money for the pro­ce­dure, Garza said.

In­stead, she was taken to a cri­sis preg­nancy cen­ter. Such cen­ters en­cour­age preg­nant women not to have an abor­tion.

“I feel like they are try­ing to co­erce me to carry my preg­nancy to term,” the girl said in a dec­la­ra­tion filed in court last week.

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