A federal judge declined today to force the federal government to release a pregnant girl from a refugee shelter so that she can get an abortion, saying the decision didn’t belong in her court. But in her ruling, U.S. District Judge Laurel Beeler expressed concern that the Trump administration is blocking access to abortion for migrant girls in federal custody.
Beeler said the American Civil Liberties Union was wrong to tie the girl’s case to a pre-existing lawsuit in her court in San Francisco, over religious groups that contract with the federal government, in part because the girl is being held at a nonreligious shelter in Texas.
“The case is better brought as a new lawsuit,” Beeler wrote.
In court filings last week, the ACLU offered evidence that President Donald Trump’s top refugee official, Scott Lloyd, has visited pregnant minors in federal refugee shelters to dissuade them from getting abortions and had them sent to religious pregnancy counseling instead.
At Lloyd’s direction, Office of Refugee Resettlement staff have prevented one girl in Texas, referred to as Jane Doe, from visiting an abortion clinic, according to documents filed last week in federal court, even after a state district judge gave her permission to get the abortion.
ACLU lawyers had asked Beeler to issue an emergency order allowing Doe to leave the shelter for new appointments later this week.
“It’s obviously a serious disappointment,” said Brigitte Amiri, the ACLU’s lead counsel on the case – most of all because filing a new case in another court will mean further delays for Doe, whose initial appointment had been for Sept. 28. Texas bans abortions after 20 weeks, creating a tight deadline; court filings don’t indicate how long Doe has before she reaches that limit.
Amiri said her legal team is deciding what to do next and would announce a decision Thursday.
At a hearing in downtown San Francisco, sitting in a nearly empty courtroom with lawyers phoning in from several cities, Beeler hinted at how she would rule.
“I’m having a very tough time seeing why the proposed complaint at all belongs in this district,” she said, suggesting that courts in Texas or Washington might make more sense.
But Beeler’s ruling stressed that in the right venue, she would have granted Doe’s request. “The government may not want to facilitate abortion, but it cannot block it. It is doing that here,” the judge wrote. “There is no justification for restricting Ms. Doe’s access.”
But that’s just what the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been doing, said Susan Hays, legal director of the Austin, Texas-based legal aid group Jane’s Due Process.
In an interview, Hays said her group helped Doe secure a state court order allowing her access to an abortion and a court-appointed guardian to help her get to the clinic. Texas’ judicial bypass law, Hays said, should guarantee Doe’s access to an abortion over a parent’s or caretaker’s objections – even when that caretaker is the U.S. government.
“They refused to do that, in defiance of the court order,” Hays said. “They’re lawless. They’re ignoring court orders and constitutional law and state law on minors.”
Patrick Michels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickMichels.