Northeastern Law alumna leads historic abortion rights case

Northeastern Law alumna leads historic abortion rights case
ACLU lawyer and Northeastern School of Law alumna Brigitte Amiri gained national attention when she successfully argued a recent abortion rights case for undocumented minor Jane Doe.

By Riley Robinson, news staff

Brigitte Amiri, a 1999 Northeastern School of Law alumna and litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, recently gained national attention after winning an abortion rights case for a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant, referred to in case proceedings as Jane Doe.

Doe, whose country of origin has not been disclosed, crossed the border alone in September and was held in a Texas detention facility run by the Department of Health and Human Services. She learned she was pregnant while in federal custody and obtained a Texas court order to have an abortion. However, staff at the facility denied her release to go to the clinic. Instead, they brought Doe to a crisis pregnancy center run by a pro-life organization.

Amiri and her team at the ACLU took up Doe’s case three days later, on Sept. 28.

“I said to them, the Department of Justice, that this is blatantly unconstitutional,” Amiri said. “You can’t hold someone hostage to prevent someone from accessing an abortion. I said they would likely see us in court.”

The contention was not over federal funding for Doe’s abortion, as private organizations were paying for the procedure. Amiri challenged the Department of Health and Human Services policy of “refusing to facilitate” abortions for minors in its custody.

She had to work quickly because Texas bans abortions after 20 weeks. Doe was 11 weeks pregnant.

On Oct. 24, after four rulings and several appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit decided in favor of Doe along partisan lines. She had the abortion the following day.

“It was very busy and very hectic, but every day mattered for Jane,” Amiri said. “Every day she was forced to stay pregnant against her will.”

Amiri specializes in litigating for reproductive health care and said she is passionate about using law as a tool for social change.

“That’s why I went to Northeastern law school, because they’re so dedicated to social justice,” she said.

Amiri named professors Lucy Williams and Mary O’Connell as her role models during her time as a law student.

“What I remember about Brigitte [Amiri] is how determined she was to become an excellent lawyer,” O’Connell wrote in a Nov. 3 email to The News. “From the beginning of her law school days, her focus was on the future, on being a professional, on being highly competent. While Jane Doe had every right to make the choice she did, I think she’s also very fortunate to have had Brigitte working for her.”

Professor Lucy Williams, faculty director of the Center for Public Interest Advocacy and Collaboration, also remembered Amiri fondly.

“She was not only really intellectual, she was passionately committed,” Williams said. “I always knew she was a student who was going to go out and do cutting-edge work for marginalized populations.”

Amiri is currently working on a class action suit on behalf of all pregnant undocumented minors in federal custody, a group that she says includes hundreds of young women each year.

“I really feel like access to reproductive health care is so critical for women’s ability to participate in society equally,” Amiri said. “Without the help of everyone, we’re going to go back to a time in this country where abortion is perhaps way more restricted than it is now.”

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