Immigrant Minor Held ‘Hostage’ in Texas Because She Wants Abortion Care

"The government is basically trying to argue that undocumented immigrants have zero rights, including the right to abortion."

While the young undocumented woman has legal authority to obtain abortion care, the federal government has stepped in to block her from being transported to a clinic. Shutterstock

Read more of our coverage of Jane Doe’s case here.

An unaccompanied immigrant minor at a Texas shelter is being prevented from accessing abortion care by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the federal agency overseeing migrant youth crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without a guardian.

Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Reproductive Freedom Project, is seeking a temporary restraining order today to allow Jane Doe to access abortion. The teen was granted a judicial bypass from a Texas judge, allowing her to receive an abortion because her parents were not willing or able to provide consent. However, the 17-year-old has had to cancel two abortion appointments because officials are both refusing her transportation to the medical facility and refusing to allow her to leave the shelter with her guardian for the purpose of obtaining an abortion. ORR is supposed to provide transportation to minors when they need to go to court or see a doctor. 

“This temporary restraining order is an emergency order that a court provides on an emergency basis. We’re asking the judge to prohibit the defendants from further obstructing access to abortion for Jane Doe,” Amiri said. “We’ve also asked them to prohibit the government from forcing Jane Doe to tell her mom about her abortion decisionor further communication with anyone about her abortion decision, including the crisis pregnancy center she’s been forced to go to.”

Susan Hays, the legal director for Jane’s Due Process, an organization that provides legal representation to pregnant minors in Texas, told Rewire that when Jane Doe’s case emerged, the organization was on “high alert” because of the nature of “horrible cases” emerging under the Trump administration, not to mention how difficult Texas Republicans have made it for people to access reproductive health care in the state. 

State law requires parental consent or a judicial waiver before a minor can obtain an abortion procedure. Jane Doe went to court with the assistance of an attorney and an appointed guardian and obtained the necessary judicial waiver. While the young woman has legal authority to obtain abortion care, the federal government has stepped in to block her from being transported to a clinic, according to the ACLU. They instead required her to visit a religiously affiliated crisis pregnancy center, or anti-choice fake clinic, to undergo counseling to continue the pregnancy. She was required to have a sonogram conducted by non-medical personnel against her will.

“Jane Doe is in an area of Texas with only one abortion provider and the clinic is not on the approved counselor list, but crisis pregnancy centers were on the list,” Hays said. When it came time to provide Jane Doe with transportation to her second appointment, ORR refused. Attorneys working on her behalf proposed that, as state law requires, the agency release the minor to her guardian’s custody so that her guardian could transport her to the clinic. The agency refused. 

“At that point, they’re holding her hostage,” Hays said, explaining that in Texas, if you miss your appointment, you have to schedule another for the following week because abortions are only provided twice a week and cannot be rescheduled for the following day.

Hays told Rewire that not only are ORR officials denying Jane Doe access to health care; they are “torturing her.”

“We’ve learned that officials with ORR are asking her what she’s going to name her baby and even though she has a bypass, which gives her the right to consent to her own abortion care without telling her parents, officials with ORR informed her parents in her country of origin and they are haranguing her to talk to her mother.”

Hays said advocates are trying to give Jane Doe as much privacy as possible. The teen did not want any personal information about herself released, except for one fact.

“What she did authorize us to say is that she had a sister who came home pregnant and her parents beat her so badly, she miscarried,” Hays said. “Jane Doe was fleeing physical abuse and she came to the United States seeking safety, only to be held hostage, coerced into having a child, and forced to talk to her abusive parents about her personal decisions.”

During today’s hearing, attorneys with the ACLU will request a wider order barring Trump administration officials from “obstructing or interfering with abortion access” for other pregnant minors who were arrested after crossing the border without their parents. The ACLU is requesting that Jane Doe be added to a larger class action lawsuit filed in June 2016 because her experience is part of a larger pattern by ORR of refusing to allow unaccompanied minors to receive abortion care, referring them instead to fake clinics that dissuade people from seeking abortion. 

“The federal government has been giving millions of dollars to religiously-affiliated organizations who are restricting access to abortion and contraception for minors in shelters,” Amiri said. “We are seeking to amend our original complaint to add Jane Doe and we want to protect other young women who are in a similar situation, because we believe this is not just happening in Texas. We have documents that show this is a nationwide policy that will impact all minors in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.”

Many of the girls and young women in ORR’s care are pregnant as a result of being raped on their journey to the United States. Amiri said the stats for unaccompanied immigrant minors are similar to those of other migrant women. Eighty percent of Central American women crossing Mexico en route to the United States are raped along the way, according to a 2014 report from Splinter.

Amiri told Rewire she has heard “numbers as high as 60 percent when it comes to girls being raped crossing the border alone,” and that almost all of the pregnant minors they encounter in ORR shelters are pregnant as a result of rape.

“The government is basically trying to argue that undocumented immigrants have zero rights, including the right to abortion,” Hays said. “It pains me to have to say thisto remind the government and othersthat undocumented immigrants are human beings with rights, including the right not to be subjected to gynecological exams against their will, including the right to access abortion. What the government is basically saying is that they do not care that unaccompanied immigrant minors have been sexually assaulted; they will be preached at, shamed, taken to unlicensed counselors, and not allowed access to abortion care. This is absolutely horrifying.”