Judge: No blocking alien girl's abortion

SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge in San Francisco said Wednesday that the government cannot prevent a pregnant 17-year-old at a Texas detention center for unaccompanied alien children from getting an abortion, but she declined to issue an order that would bar the U.S. from blocking 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. 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.

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 the procedure. The girl may be up to 14 weeks' pregnant, Rochelle Garza, a lawyer appointed to represent the girl's legal interests, said 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 the Health and Human Services Department argued against that, saying the original lawsuit claimed the agency was violating the Constitution by allowing religious groups to refuse access to abortion. In this case, government lawyers said the 17-year-old was not being held in a facility with a religious affiliation.

Unaccompanied Central American children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border are generally turned over to facilities run by private operators on behalf of the Health and Human Services Department, and many facilities are affiliated with religious organizations that oppose abortion.

The department said in statement that it was providing "excellent care" to the 17-year-old girl and her unborn child.

Garza said the teen is from Central America. She declined to give the girl's name or identify the specific country where she was from, citing the girl's privacy, but said 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 the staff at the detention center 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.

A Section on 10/12/2017

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