WASHINGTON (CN) - Clearing the way for doctors to perform an abortion on a 17-year-old who entered the United States illegally last month, the D.C. Circuit ordered the government Friday to release the minor into the custody of a sponsor.
The unsigned order came hours after the federal appeals court held oral arguments on the fate of a girl identified only as Jane Doe. Described by her attorneys as about 15 weeks pregnant, Doe has been blocked by the U.S. Department of Human Health and Services from getting an abortion since she crossed the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied three weeks ago.
When the United States apprehends unaccompanied minors from Central America at its border, it generally turns them over to facilities run by private HHS contractors. Many such facilities are affiliated with religious organizations that oppose abortion.
The D.C. Circuit says HHS should be given until the end of business hours on Oct. 31 to secure a sponsor for Doe and release her into that individual's custody.
"If a sponsor is secured and J.D. is released from HHS custody to the sponsor, HHS agrees that J.D. then will be lawfully able, if she chooses, to obtain an abortion on her own pursuant to the relevant state law," the order states, abbreviating Jane Doe. "If a sponsor is not secured and J.D. is not released to the sponsor by that time, the District Court may re-enter a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, or other appropriate order, and the government or J.D. may, if they choose, immediately appeal. We note that the government has assumed, for purposes of this case, that J.D. -- an unlawful immigrant who apparently was detained shortly after unlawfully crossing the border into the United States -- possesses a constitutional right to obtain an abortion in the United States."
Reacting to the order late Friday, the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services touted its respect for human dignity.
“For however much time we are given, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and HHS will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies in our facilities, and we will defend human dignity for all in our care," the agency said in an email.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Brigitte Amiri argued before the three-judge panel Friday that the government has put an unconstitutional undue burden on Doe’s right to have an abortion.
"The government may not ban abortion for anyone," Amiri said.
Amiri argued that the government is entitled to take actions in the teen’s best interests, but that here it is acting against her wishes to have the procedure.
"What they are actually doing is supplanting their decision about what J.D. should do with her pregnancy," Amiri said, abbreviating Jane Doe. "And that is not acting in her best interest. And that is actually a veto power over J.D.'s decision.”
Before the ACLU sued in Washington on the teen's behalf last week, it tried to add Doe to a 2016 case in California where the group is fighting to keep religiously affiliated shelters from imposing their anti-abortion stance on minors.