Court clears the way for undocumented teenager to get abortion immediately

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An undocumented teenager in federal custody can receive an abortion, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Tuesday afternoon.

The decision comes four days after a federal appeals court ruled that the 17-year-old teenage girl, who is currently being held by immigration authorities in Texas, had the right to an abortion but determined that the government was not required to facilitate the procedure. Instead, the court said, a sponsor would need to be found, allowing the girl, referred to as Jane Doe, to be released from the detention center and taken for the abortion.

That court argued then that this approach “does not unduly burden the minor’s right under Supreme Court” and upholds her constitutional right to an abortion. While the teenager is an undocumented immigrant, she does “[possess] a constitutional right to obtain an abortion in the United States,” the court emphasized.

But that ruling further delayed Jane Doe’s ability to obtain an abortion, alarming advocates. Texas does not permit abortions after 20 weeks and the teenager is already 16 weeks pregnant. That only gives her until October 31 — a deadline not far away. The Rio Grande Valley, where Jane Doe is being held, only has one abortion clinic.

Tuesday’s ruling strikes a decidedly different tone from last week’s ruling. By majority ruling, the judges said that the lower appeals court was “best suited to promptly determine in the first instance the appropriate dates for compliance with the injunction” and stated that the district court should reissue an order allowing Jane Doe to receive the abortion. The court noted it would retain “full discretion to conduct proceedings and make any factual findings deemed necessary and appropriate to the district court’s exercise of its equitable judgment.”

The Trump administration previously refused to allow Jane Doe to leave government custody in order to obtain the abortion, sending her instead to a crisis pregnancy center, where visitors are encouraged not to terminate their pregnancies. That tactic further delayed her ability to obtain the abortion, something that doctors and activists say provided an additional — and unnecessary — hurdle. At the time the teenager initially requested an abortion, the entire procedure would have taken 10 minutes.

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