Was pregnant undocumented minor pressured to abort?

By Dave Andrusko

When last we reported on the ongoing battle between the Trump administration and the ACLU, a pregnant 17-year-old undocumented teenager had been released from a federally funded shelter and transferred to the care of her sponsor. This meant she was free to have an abortion opposed by the Justice Department because of the Administration’s policy of not “facilitating” abortions of unaccompanied minors. However, in the latter case of “Jane Moe,” once she was transferred to a sponsor, that no longer applied.

On Thursday, the day before the Supreme Court was scheduled to convene a closed-door conference to hear the Justice Department’s appeal in the case of the first abortion of an undocumented teenager, Fox News reported, “Illegal immigrant minor suggests she faced pressure to get abortion on federal dime.”

Based on a filing by the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), Fox News’ Jake Gibson reported that the pregnant minor identified only as “Jane Doe” said

her guardians, Rochelle Garza and Myles Garza, assisted her on Feb. 6 by giving her documents to seek an abortion. The Garzas have represented other illegal immigrant minors seeking abortions.

But in a handwritten statement a day later, the woman in this case said she didn’t want an abortion anymore and didn’t want the Garzas representing her interests.

“At this time I have changed my decision to have an abortion,” the woman said in the statement, according to the court filing.

In an apparent reference to the Garzas, the woman said: “The people I saw yesterday were lawyers that made me sign, I … do not need their help because I do not want to have an abortion.”

Gibson further reported that United States District Judge Rolando Olvera granted the government’s request to replace the Garzas as the minor’s guardians.

This all takes place against a backdrop of a two-fold fight between the Justice Department and the ACLU.

The first phase, as the Washington Post’s Ann E. Marimow explained, is “whether the ACLU can proceed with its larger challenge to the Trump administration’s policy of refusing to ‘facilitate’ abortions for unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border illegally. That policy potentially affects hundreds of teens being held in federally funded shelters. The Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Human Services has said the minors have the option of returning to their home countries or finding sponsors in the U.S. as Jane Moe did in the most recent case.”

Marimow wrote, “There were 420 pregnant girls in custody during fiscal 2017, according to court records.”

The second phase deals with the serious charges leveled by the government against ACLU lawyers in the case of the first undocumented teen in government custody who sued successful to obtain an abortion. That is the case the Supreme Court was scheduled to take up today in conference.

That undocumented teen, also identified as “Jane Doe,” aborted in late October after a split DC Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan.

The next month the Justice Department filed a 29-page petition, arguing that “the ACLU misled the United States as to the timing of Jane Doe’s abortion,” according to Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley. “After informing Justice Department attorney the procedure would occur on October 26th, Jane Doe’s attorneys scheduled the abortion for the early morning hours of October 25th, thereby thwarting Supreme Court review.” The Justice Department seeks some unspecified form of punishment.

Veteran Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston wrote, “The more important part of that appeal, though, is the Administration’s request for the Justices to answer this question: should lower courts be ordered to dismiss all claims for release from detention regarding minors who entered the country alone and are or were found to be pregnant?” As noted, these teenagers are currently being held in HHS- funded shelters in different states.

Dennison concluded that the first issue the Supreme Court justices would confront “is whether to grant review. If they do accept the case, it could be decided before the end of the current term, probably in late June.”