Undocumented teen in legal limbo over her right to an abortion


HARI SREENIVASAN: We turn now to a dramatic
legal case making its way through the federal courts over whether a young undocumented immigrant
has a right to an abortion. Our correspondent Lisa Desjardins has more. LISA DESJARDINS: Last month, U.S. border officials
apprehended a 17-year old girl at the Texas border crossing from Mexico. Pregnant, she asked to get an abortion and
obtained a court’s permission. But due to a policy change by the Trump administration,
U.S. officials detaining her refused to take her to her appointment. Her abortion is currently on hold pending
an appeals court hearing tomorrow. For more on this, we’re joined by Renuka Rayasam. She covers health care for Politico and joins
us now from Austin. Renuka, thank you so much for joining us. Now, this young woman, known as Jane Doe,
she’s 15 weeks’ pregnant right now. Can you tell us more about her precise situation? RENUKA RAYASAM, Politico: Sure. Thank you for having me, Lisa. So, as you mentioned, this girl, she is from
Central America. She crossed the border into the U.S. in September,
and had an official health — had an initial health screening, as all undocumented minors
do when they cross the border, and found out she was pregnant only when she arrived in
the country. And so she had an initial follow-up appointment
today. It was the first time that it was actually
confirmed that she was 15 weeks’ pregnant. And here in Texas, abortion is banned pretty
much after 20 weeks, so she’s in a bit of a tight situation here. LISA DESJARDINS: Now, some people might be
surprised that unaccompanied minors in this country are actually overseen by the Department
of Health and Human Services. What is the argument by HHS and the Trump
administration here for blocking an abortion from this young woman? RENUKA RAYASAM: They have made a couple of
arguments. So, in this specific case, they have said,
we’re not blocking her right to have an abortion, but we’re just not going to facilitate it. And they said, we don’t have to process the
paperwork to let her out of our facility. She could easily go back to her home country
in Central America or find a sponsor in the U.S. And they have also said, as long as she’s
in an HHS shelter — so, this is actually a federally funded shelter that is under contract
with HHS — she has to play by our rules, and our rules are that we don’t want her to
have an abortion. LISA DESJARDINS: And you mentioned our rules. This is actually a change in how HHS administers
policy for these young undocumented immigrants, right? RENUKA RAYASAM: Absolutely. So what came out in court documents is that,
since March, since the Trump administration started taking over this department, they
have put in place a new policy, and they have basically blocked all abortions for unaccompanied
minors in federally funded shelters. And they have gone so far as the director
of the Office of Refugee Settlement, which is the department that is responsible for
these minors, has sent these girls instead to crisis pregnancy centers. The director has personally gotten involved
in one case in San Antonio. He visited a girl in a shelter and tried to
talk her out of an abortion. I have heard from sources that he’s made many
phone calls to these girls and basically tried to talk them out of getting an abortion. LISA DESJARDINS: Renuka, the right to an abortion
is something established by the Supreme Court in this country. What are these lawyers for these young women
saying, and how does it fit into court precedent as we know it? RENUKA RAYASAM: The ACLU is arguing that the
administration here is placing an undue burden on this woman’s right to have an abortion. And, as you mentioned, the Supreme Court has
upheld that right several times and has said that the government can’t place an undue burden
here. And they have said, you know, just because
she’s an undocumented minor doesn’t mean she doesn’t have constitutional rights, such as
the right to an abortion. LISA DESJARDINS: But the argument is that,
because she’s undocumented, she doesn’t have the same rights as the rest of people in America. Right? RENUKA RAYASAM: During oral arguments — I
mean, they lasted for about 45 minutes. And the federal judge really pressed the administration
on this, and the federal judge asked straight out, do you think that undocumented minors
have constitutional rights? And the administration lawyers weren’t really
clear on that point. And the Supreme Court has said that undocumented
minors have constitutional rights, but the administration lawyers weren’t very clear
on whether they agree or not with that statement. LISA DESJARDINS: Renuka Rayasam, thank you
so much, joining us from Austin, Texas. RENUKA RAYASAM: Thank you for having me.

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