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Civil Rights

Appeals Court Dodges Big Decision in Case of Undocumented Teen Seeking Abortion

— October 24, 2017

A federal appeals court is avoiding setting any groundbreaking precedent in the case of an undocumented minor in need of an abortion.

In a decision issued late Friday evening, the three judge panel ruled 2-1 to overturn a decision from a federal judge that would allow the 17-year old girl to immediately proceed with an abortion.

Instead, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered federal authorities to find a suitable sponsor for the girl. If a suitable individual were found, then the Trump administration would have to abide by state rules in either allowing or prohibiting the teen from pursuing the procedure.

If the administration were unable to find a sponsor, the case would be bumped back to a federal judge – who could then elect to let the undocumented teenager leave the shelter at which she’s currently detained and set an appointment with an abortion clinic. speculates that the decision is unlikely to appease either party involved in the suit – the Trump administration or the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the teen.

Oral arguments Friday morning led with the administration arguing that it was entitled to push its agenda of promoting ‘childbirth and fetal life” by not facilitating any sort of abortive procedure.

Participants in an anti-abortion rally hold signs that read “Stop Abortion Now” as they listen to speakers, on Jan. 23, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. | AP Photo | Image and caption via

Meanwhile, Politico reports, the ACLU countered that the Department of Health and Human Services – which has custody of the teen – is wielding “unconstitutional veto power” over minors in their care, given that girl had obtained permission from a judge to pursue the abortion and had independently acquired the funds necessary to pay.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the author of the majority opinion, said the court was essentially trying to sidestep setting any sort of sweeping precedent.

“We’re being pushed in a span of 24 hours to make a sweeping constitutional ruling in one direction or another,” said Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush appointee. “When that happens the Supreme Court and this court often look: Are there other avenues to resolving a dispute short of that, initially? … If she were released to a sponsor, that would resolve the government’s objection … and allow her to obtain the abortion if she so chooses.”

Another of the judges – Obama-era appointee Patricia Miller – seemed somewhat open to the idea of the minor being attributed a sponsor.

However, as arguments dragged on, she seemed less receptive to the proposal. Miller worried the length of time necessary for such an arrangement could place the teen outside the time limit for getting an abortion under Texas law.

Miller eventually became the lone voice of dissent on the three-judge panel, issuing an aggressive minority opinion critical of the administration and the proposed sponsorship.

“What is forcing J.D. [Jane Doe, referring to the minor] to carry on this pregnancy is not J.D.’s choice. It is not Texas law. It is the federal government’s refusal to allow an abortion to go forward,” Judge Miller wrote. “The sponsorship remand, in short, stands as an immovable barrier to J.D.’s exercise of her constitutional right that inflicts irreparable injury without any justification offered for why the government can force her to continue the pregnancy until near the cusp of viability.”


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