Judge Grants Teen in Country Illegally Abortion Procedure
WESLACO – An abortion case involving an undocumented teen in federal custody was granted permission to obtain an abortion last month, but she was refused transportation or temporarily release.
In a late decision Wednesday, a federal judge ruled she'll be allowed to go to the nearest abortion provider by Oct. 21.
The teen is currently in a Brownsville shelter that is operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a federal agency.
She's 15 weeks pregnant and her advocates are under a deadline. Abortions are prohibited in Texas at 20 weeks.
Court documents reveal that the 17-year-old immigrant came into the country illegally without her parents. She sought an abortion once she was in custody.
On Sept. 25 through the state court system, her legal team secured what's called a judicial bypass.
Rochelle Garza, guardian ad litem for Jane Doe explained, "It's a process by which a minor under the age of 18 can petition the court to allow her to have an abortion without the consent of her parent and/or managing conservator."
The procedure was scheduled. That's where things ended.
The shelter denied Jane Doe transportation for the medical procedure. Her attorney and Garza told CHANNEL 5 NEWS they weren't allowed to take her to the medical appointment either.
Garza said the decision stems from a federal policy.
"It's our understanding that there was a memo circulated sometime in March of 2017," she said.
In court documents, the American Civil Liberties Union presents this memo as an exhibit.
It's from the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement for all shelters. It reads:
"When a UAC (unaccompanied child) may be involved in an abortion, grantees must immediately inform the director of the Division of Unaccompanied Children's Services in ORR of the situation ... and are prohibited from taking any action that facilitates an abortion without direction and approval from the Director of ORR."
The ACLU tried to get permission to get Jane Doe to her appointment. Her case went to court in California. The request was denied on a technicality.
Garza explains, "Because of venue, because it was in California and most of the harm is felt here in Texas, that it wasn't proper in California."
CHANNEL 5 NEWS requested a statement from the Office of Refugee and Resettlement asking about their policy.
The statement provided is from the Administration for Children and Families. It reads in part:
"While the child is in our custody, our goal is to provide food, shelter and care to her under federal statute. In this specific case, we are providing excellent care to the adolescent girl and her unborn child, who remain under our care until the mother's release."
One of the specific questions we asked was for the policy prohibiting transportation. That question wasn't answered.
Garza said she's concerned about the impact on her client, "My concern is for her emotional safety, her emotional well-being. She told me she's ‘desesperada,’ or desperate.”
The case was re-filed in Washington, D.C. last Friday. Now, they have permission granted to get Jane Doe to the procedure.
A medical abortion was initially sought. The delays have now led to a more invasive procedure.
Jane Doe's guardian said that all medical costs would not be paid by the state. A non-profit organization would be taking care of the bill.
The Administration for Children and Families sent a statement that reads:
"In most cases when a child enters the United States illegally without a parent or guardian, by law the minor is placed into the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS' Administration for Children and Families. At that point, our paramount concern is the child's safety and well-being. While the child is in our custody, our goal is to provide food, shelter and care to her under federal statute. In this specific case, we are providing excellent care to the adolescent girl and her unborn child, who remain under our care until the mother's release."