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In Immigrant Teen's Abortion Case, Supreme Court Sides With Trump Administration and Texas

Siding with the Trump administration Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court's order that allowed a teenage immigrant to have an abortion in October while she was being detained in Texas after illegally crossing the border with Mexico.

By Chuck Lindell

Siding with the Trump administration Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court's order that allowed a teenage immigrant to have an abortion in October while she was being detained in Texas after illegally crossing the border with Mexico.

The court, however, declined a U.S. Justice Department request to discipline the immigrant's attorneys over allegations that they had misled government lawyers about the timing of the 17-year-old's abortion, denying a chance to block the procedure on appeal.

The long-awaited ruling, a unanimous but unsigned five-page opinion, determined that the matter was moot because the teen, identified in court records as Jane Doe, had already received an abortion.

Justice Department lawyers, supported by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, sought to void the appeals court order allowing Doe to have an abortion, arguing that it "should not be left on the books," where it could help in legal battles by pregnant teen immigrants in a similar situation.

Paxton praised the ruling to vacate an order, saying it could have created "a right to abortion for anyone who enters the U.S. illegally."

"The previous ruling not only cost a life but could have paved the way for extending American citizens' rights to all unlawfully present aliens with no substantial connection to this country. Texas will not become a sanctuary state for abortions, and will continue the fight to protect and promote fetal life," Paxton said.

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union, which led Doe's legal fight, said Monday's ruling will have no impact on on their Central American client or on a related but wider effort to overturn the Trump administration's policy of refusing to let pregnant minors leave federal immigration custody to obtain an abortion.

At the ACLU's request, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., issued a preliminary injunction in March that blocked the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for unaccompanied minors in federal detention, from continuing policies that strip teen immigrants "of their right to make their own reproductive choices."

"The district court has blocked the Trump administration's cruel policy of obstructing unaccompanied immigrant minors' access to abortion while the case continues, and we won't stop until we strike it down once and for all," said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

In Monday's ruling, the Supreme Court declined to wade into allegations that ACLU lawyers lied about the timing of Doe's abortion to avoid an appeal that could have blocked the procedure.

Administration attorneys accused Doe's lawyers of indicating that her abortion was scheduled for Oct. 26 after a state-mandated counseling session at the clinic Oct. 25.

Instead, Doe's Oct. 25 appointment was moved from 7:30 a.m. to 4:15 a.m. when her original abortion doctor became available. Because Doe already had the counseling session with that doctor in preparation for an earlier, canceled abortion, she was able to have the procedure a day earlier than expected, the government lawyers said.

The misdirection thwarted plans to try to block Doe's abortion with an appeal to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department said.

ACLU lawyers argued that their notice to the Justice Department complied with federal and state law, adding that they were under no obligation to delay Doe's abortion so the government could have time to appeal.

Although Monday's opinion acknowledged that the Supreme Court takes allegations of ethical violations by lawyers seriously, it said there was no need to delve into the dispute to decide whether the lower court's order for Doe's abortion was moot.

"On the one hand, all attorneys must remain aware of the principle that zealous advocacy does not displace their obligations as officers of the court," the ruling said. "On the other hand, lawyers also have ethical obligations to their clients, and not all communication breakdowns constitute misconduct."

David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU, said he was gratified that the court rejected the request to discipline his lawyers.

"In protecting a woman's access to abortion, the lower courts did what they are supposed to do. And the ACLU did what lawyers are supposed to do -- namely, pursue the best interests of our clients," he said.

(c)2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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