US top court hears migrant teen abortion case

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and coalition partners protested together outside the Department of Health and Human Services on Oct 20, 2017, in support of Jane Doe to have an abortion.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and coalition partners protested together outside the Department of Health and Human Services on Oct 20, 2017, in support of Jane Doe to have an abortion.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The administration of President Donald Trump suggested on Friday (Nov 3) that disciplinary action should be taken against lawyers for an undocumented migrant teenager who was allowed to have an abortion.

Her case is the first major legal battle concerning abortion during the Trump's presidency, taking on heavy symbolic weight because it touches the rights of both women and immigrants.

A US appeals court last week ruled that the teen, identified only as Jane Doe, could get an abortion - against the will of the administration.

In a 130-page submission to the US Supreme Court on Friday, the Department of Justice accused attorneys for the 17-year-old of interrupting her pregnancy without allowing her legal battle to continue.

"Disciplinary action may therefore be warranted" against the attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after a "highly unusual" chain of events, the Department of Justice argued.

The nearly century-old ACLU has undertaken numerous legal challenges of the Trump administration.

In this case, the teen crossed the US-Mexico border without authorization after fleeing violence in Central America. Her lawyers said she realized she was pregnant after her arrival and detention at a government-funded facility in Texas.

The adolescent requested an abortion in September, when a medical examination estimated she was already about 11 weeks pregnant.

Authorities gave her a choice between not having an abortion or expulsion in order to interrupt her pregnancy.

After the appeals court ruled in the teen's favor on Oct 24, her supporters took her for the abortion early the following morning, short-circuiting the Department of Justice which had planned to appeal to the Supreme Court the same day.

Texas law requires a delay of at least 24 hours between the first meeting of a patient with an abortion doctor and the abortion itself.

Government lawyers said their ACLU counterparts had assured them that the initial interview with the doctor would take place on Oct 25, before an abortion on the 26th.

In fact, the teen had the interview on October 19 which the ACLU said allowed for termination of her pregnancy on Oct 25.

On Friday the ACLU's legal director, David Cole, said the group's lawyers "acted in the best interest of our client and in full compliance with the court orders and federal and Texas law."

Cole said the 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."

There was an urgency to the case of the teen because she was more than 15 weeks pregnant. Texas prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks.

The US Supreme Court affirmed the right to abortion nationwide in 1973 but the landmark legislation has come under threat since Trump took office in January.

Turning to the conservative-leaning Supreme Court reflects the determination of Trump's administration to act in favor of abortion's opponents, who control both the White House and Congress.