The Trump administration is locked in a legal battle over whether it is required to facilitate an abortion for a 17-year-old illegal immigrant being held in a federally funded Texas shelter.
Photo by Bjoertvedt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is considering the case of a 17-year-old illegal immigrant asking the Trump administration to facilitate her abortion while in federal custody.
The administration claims it is not required to expend any resources to secure an abortion for the immigrant – known in legal documents only as Jane Doe or J.D. – including providing transportation to an abortion clinic.
But J.D., who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), claims she has a legal right to abortion and is being “held hostage to the extreme anti-abortion views of a handful of government officials,” The New York Times reported.
“This story, to this point, really isn’t getting adequate attention,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Oct. 23 in his podcast The Briefing. “But given the issues at stake, indeed it must.”
Mohler noted the “clash of worldviews” occurring between pro-life advocates and those who claim “a constitutional right to an abortion, and furthermore, a requirement that the federal government of the United States … facilitate that abortion” for any noncitizen “who can just get to the territory of the United States.”
J.D. was apprehended by federal authorities in early September after entering the U.S. illegally as an unaccompanied minor, according to court documents. A medical examination revealed she was pregnant, and she requested an abortion.
The Department of Health and Human Services declined to let her leave the shelter to obtain an abortion, arguing that to provide accompanying staff and other resources would constitute government facilitation of abortion even though J.D. obtained private funding for the procedure.
A U.S. district judge ruled Oct. 18 the administration must transport J.D. to a facility that could terminate her pregnancy by Oct. 21. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the ruling Oct. 20, ordering that the administration be given until Oct. 31 to release J.D. to a sponsor who could help her obtain an abortion on her own.
J.D.’s ALCU attorneys appealed to the full D.C. Appeals court Oct. 23, arguing “every additional day she must remain pregnant against her will places a severe strain on J.D., both physically and emotionally,” according to Politico. The ACLU also argued J.D., who is 15 weeks pregnant, soon will not be able to secure an abortion legally because Texas does not permit abortion beyond 20 weeks in most cases.
The Trump administration says, however, that illegal immigrants have no right to abortion on demand. The teen is free, the administration has written in court documents, to request a voluntary departure from the U.S. and obtain an abortion on her own.
“Any alleged ‘obstacle’ to Ms. Doe’s ability to obtain an abortion is by her own choice,” the administration stated in an Oct. 23 court filing. “She is in federal custody because she entered the United states illegally, and that custody is what she contends is blocking her ability to obtain an abortion. But Ms. Doe may elect voluntary departure to end her federal custody, which would eliminate the alleged ‘restriction’ or ‘obstacle’ of which she complains.”
The administration added, “The government need not facilitate access to abortion; it need not provide funding or ‘commit any resources to facilitating abortions’ … And the government may legitimately express a preference for childbirth over abortion, even if such a preference may have practical effects or limits on a woman’s exercise of her right to an abortion.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told The Times requiring the government to facilitate J.D.’s abortion would set “a dangerous precedent by opening our borders to any illegal children seeking taxpayer-supported, elective abortions.”
Politico reported Oct. 17 that HHS has intervened in multiple instances to steer detained, undocumented minors away from abortion, including sending them to crisis pregnancy centers. A senior HHS official, according to Politico, has personally counseled detained teens not to end their pregnancies.
The ACLU has asked a federal district judge to allow J.D.’s case to proceed as a class-action lawsuit, according to The Times, to secure a right to abortion for as many as 1,000 unaccompanied, pregnant minors who have immigrated to the U.S. and are in federal custody.
A decision is awaited by the full D.C. Appeals court on whether it will hear J.D.’s case.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)