WASHINGTON (AP) — Asking the Supreme Court to get involved, the Trump administration on Friday accused lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of misleading the Justice Department in the case of a pregnant immigrant teen who was able to obtain an abortion following a lawsuit.
The Justice Department's central complaint, explained in a filing with the high court Friday, is that the ACLU did not alert government lawyers that the teen's abortion would take place a day earlier than expected. That, the administration says, deprived its lawyers of the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the procedure, at least temporarily.
In response, the ACLU said the administration was trying to deflect blame from its anti-abortion allies for failing to quickly take the matter to the Supreme Court before the abortion could take place.
At issue is a case involving a 17-year-old referred to in court paperwork as Jane Doe. She entered the country illegally in September and is being held in a federal facility for unaccompanied minors in Texas. She learned there that she was pregnant and obtained a state court order permitting her to have an abortion. But federal officials refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her to get the procedure.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees facilities for unaccompanied minors, argued it had established a policy of "refusing to facilitate" abortions for people in its care.
The ACLU sued the government on the teen's behalf. After the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in her favor Oct. 24, she was allowed out of the facility to see a doctor and had an abortion Oct. 25. The Justice Department says its attorneys were told that the procedure would occur Oct. 26.
"After informing Justice Department attorneys that 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," Department of Justice spokesman Devin O'Malley said in a statement Friday, adding that "discipline may be warranted against Jane Doe's attorneys." The teen's name and country of origin have been withheld because she's a minor.
ACLU Legal Director David Cole defended his organization's lawyers.
"This administration has gone to astounding lengths to block this young woman from getting an abortion. Now, because they were unable to stop her, they are raising baseless questions about our conduct. Our lawyers acted in the best interest of our client and in full compliance with the court orders and federal and Texas law. That government lawyers failed to seek judicial review quickly enough is their fault, not ours," Cole said in a statement.
Cole told The Associated Press in an interview that he believes the government is largely making a political point in filing with the Supreme Court and "seeking to both deflect blame and belatedly erase their loss."
Though the teen has obtained an abortion, the lawsuit the ACLU filed is not over. The group is seeking sue on behalf of other teens in the same situation and asking a court to block the government from preventing access to abortions.
Over the course of a year, the government is responsible for hundreds of pregnant minors who are in or pass through immigration custody, according to information previously filed in the teen's case. On one day in March, there were 38 pregnant girls in custody, according to an exhibit in the case.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, wants the Supreme Court to throw out the appeals court's ruling in favor of the teen and direct that the ACLU's lawsuit on behalf of others be dismissed. That would mean the appeals court's ruling wouldn't be there to guide the result if another pregnant minor in the same situation sues. But even if the appeals court's ruling is thrown out, it would seem unlikely that the same appeals court would reach a different conclusion favoring the government in a future case.
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