A Brownsville attorney serving as guardian ad litem for a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant in custody in Texas alleged in a suit filed Oct. 13 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that federal officials are wielding an “unconstitutional veto power” over unaccompanied minors’ access to abortion.
On Oct. 11, a federal judge in San Francisco refused to add the 17-year-old Jane Doe’s case to a suit pending in her court, saying that courts in Texas or Washington, D.C. would be more appropriate venues. The pregnant teen is being held in a shelter funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to a news release issued Oct. 10 by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the new case as a class action for the 17-year-old Jane Doe’s guardian, Rochelle Garza, who is acting on behalf of similarly situated pregnant unaccompanied immigrant minors in the legal custody of the federal government.
Garza, an attorney with Garza & Garza in Brownsville, said Jane Doe is from Central America but declined for privacy reasons to give the girl’s name or her home country. She said the girl did not know that she was pregnant until she arrived in South Texas.
Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement, “Jane Doe is a brave and persistent young woman who has already been forced by the Trump administration to delay her abortion for weeks. The government is holding her hostage so that she will be forced to carry to term against her will.”
In an interview, Garza said, “The question is, can anyone be forced to have a child against her will, and the answer is absolutely not.”
Garza alleges in her petition in Garza v. Hargan, et al. that the defendants, all officials with federal agencies responsible for the immigrant unaccompanied minors, recently revised national policies so that they can deny the minors access to abortion in violation of their Fifth Amendment rights. She further alleges that the defendants have violated the minors’ First Amendment right to free speech by compelling them to discuss the circumstances surrounding their pregnancies and decisions to have abortions with crisis pregnancy centers and their parents.
Defendants also have violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by requiring unaccompanied immigrant minors to obtain counseling at crisis pregnant centers that are often religiously affiliated, Garza alleges in the petition.
Named as defendants in the suit are Eric Hargan, acting secretary of Health and Human Services; Stephen Wagner, acting assistant secretary for Administration for Children and Families; and Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The Administration for Children and Families said in a statement, “In most cases when a child enters the United States illegally without a parent or guardian 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.”
Austin attorney Susan Hays, legal director of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit organization that has been assisting with the 17-year’s case, said the girl obtained a judicial bypass on Sept. 25. The bypass is an order from a judge that allows a minor to get an abortion without the notification or consent of her parents.
Hays said that private funds would pay for the girl to have an abortion.
According to Garza’s suit, the defendants would not let the girl go with her guardian ad litem to the appointment for the abortion or let anyone else transport her. Hays said the girl has missed multiple appointments.
“Under Texas law, the guardian ad litem has a right to the child,” Hays said.
Hays said the guardian filed a suit in state district court, seeking the girl’s release, but the federal government had the suit removed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where it is pending.
Paxton expressed concern in his news release that if Jane Doe prevails in her litigation, it could create a right to abortion for anyone who enters the U.S. illegally.
“Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions,” Paxton said in the release.
Garza is asking the federal court in D.C. to grant injunctive relief to keep the federal officials from blocking immigrant minors’ access to abortion, forcing them to visit pregnancy crisis centers or revealing to their parents or immigration sponsors information about their abortions decisions. She also is asking the court to award monetary damages to Jane Doe against defendants Wagner and Lloyd.