The Supreme Court on Monday erased a lower court’s ruling that had granted abortion rights to illegal immigrant teens being held in government custody, ordering the lower court to reset the case.
The ruling, delivered in an unsigned opinion, is a victory for the Trump administration, which had asked for the reset, saying the circuit court of appeals bungled the issue last year when it established a right to abortion for illegal immigrants.
But while the justices nixed that ruling, they did not weigh in on the actual constitutional rights question, instead sending the case back to the lower judges to see how things play out.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing a number of pregnant illegal immigrant teens seeking abortions — identified in court documents as variants of “Jane Doe” to protect their privacy — said it welcomed the fight.
“To the Janes out there, we’ll keep fighting for you. To the government, we’ll continue to see you in court,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s reproductive freedom project.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, cheered the ruling and predicted victory as the case winds through the courts.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the federal government is not required to facilitate abortions for minors and may choose policies favoring life over abortion,” the federal justice and health departments said in a joint statement.
The case stems from the surge of Unaccompanied Alien Children, known in government-speak as UAC, who have stormed the U.S.-Mexico border over the last five years. They arrive without their parents and, under current policy, are quickly processed and released to social workers at the Health and Human Services Department. The social workers usually put the UAC in dorms while trying to find sponsors to take them — either relatives already in the U.S. or foster parents.
At least 420 pregnant UAC were caught in 2017. Just 18 of them requested abortions and 11 actually had an abortion, according to records filed with the federal district court in Washington, D.C., last year.
The ACLU argues that the Trump administration is pressuring girls not to have the procedure by making them talk with pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. But the government counters that transporting the teens to have an abortion, and providing them with follow-up care, would break longstanding federal laws restricting federal money being spent on elective abortions.
Officials said the girls could be released to family or foster homes, where they could get an abortion outside the purview of the government, or they could accept deportation back home where they would be free to do whatever they chose, also outside the purview of the government.
But Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee to the bench, ruled the teens had a right to an abortion despite their unauthorized status. She ruled placing the girls with sponsors could mean a days-long delay, which would violate their rights, and she ruled she wouldn’t allow the government to pressure them to go back to countries where abortion its illegal.
An appeals court initially overturned her ruling, then reversed itself and upheld her decision, clearing the way for a 17-year-old teen to abort her pregnancy.
The Trump administration had hoped to ask the Supreme Court to step in and block that procedure and also accused the ACLU of speeding up the procedure and misleading the government and the court. The Supreme Court said it took those allegations seriously, but didn’t punish the ACLU.
The justices did say, however, that since the abortion happened months ago, the case is moot. They erased the appeals court’s ruling so it can’t stand as precedent.
“The Supreme Court made the right decision to vacate the D.C. Circuit’s ruling creating a right to abortion for anyone who enters the U.S. illegally,” said Texas Attorney General ken Paxton, whose state is home to a number of the dorms where UAC are kept.
Mr. Paxton said illegal immigrants were beginning to use Texas as “a sanctuary state for abortions” to avoid the laws in their home countries.