A federal appeals court on Tuesday cleared the way for an undocumented teen in detention in Texas to end her pregnancy against the objections of the Trump administration.
The full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that 17-year-old Jane Doe is entitled to seek an abortion without delay.
The 6-3 ruling reverses a decision last week by a three-judge panel on the same court that stalled the process by ordering the US Department of Health and Human Services to find a sponsor for the girl.
In light of Tuesday's ruling, a district court judge ordered HHS to allow the teen to be transported "promptly and without delay" to the abortion provider of her choosing.
Jane Doe is almost 16 weeks pregnant. She came to the United States without her parents from a unspecified country and learned she was pregnant while she was in an HHS shelter, according to a lawsuit. After she received judicial authorization to consent to an abortion, the federal government intervened and refused to transport her, triggering the lawsuit.
In a strongly worded opinion on Tuesday, Circuit Judge Patricia Ann Millett challenged the government's actions.
"The government's mere hope that an unaccompanied, abused child would make the problem go away for it by either (i) surrendering all of her legal rights and leaving the United States or (ii) finding a sponsor the government itself could never find is not a remotely constitutionally sufficient reason for depriving J.D. of any control over this most intimate and life altering decision," the judge wrote.
Timing has been a key issue of urgency in the case, which hits on two divisive social issues the Trump administration has challenged: abortion and immigration. Texas law bans abortion after 20 weeks.
"Every additional week the government delays her abortion increases the risks associated with the procedure," the American Civil Liberties Union said in an emergency petition Sunday.
The teen's fate has bounced around the court system for weeks.
Since arriving in the United States, she has been in a custody shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors run by the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Because Texas law requires parental consent or a judicial waiver for a minor to obtain an abortion, she went to court with a guardian to seek judicial permission. A judge granted her the legal authority to consent to the procedure.
However, the shelter refused to transport her, citing a policy policy of "refusing to facilitate" abortions.
The move prompted the ACLU to file a lawsuit on her behalf.
"This administration has no shame and no regard for a woman's health or decisions," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
"Weeks ago, our client decided to end her pregnancy. Her decision has been disregarded and she's now been dragged into a protracted legal battle over her ability to get the care she needs."
On October 18, a federal judge ordered HHS officials to allow her to be transported by a guardian or attorney "promptly and without delay" to an abortion provider to obtain state-mandated counseling before the abortion.
The next day, a three-judge panel from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals issued an administrative stay of that ruling -- with one judge dissenting -- to "give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion" filed by the government.
After hearing oral arguments, the panel of judges ruled on October 20 the teenager could have the abortion but delayed the process. The ruling set a deadline of October 31 HHS to get a sponsor for the girl.
In a declaration filed Sunday with the D.C. District Court, Robert Carey -- who served as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement from March 2015 to January of this year -- said it will take weeks or even months to approve a sponsor.
"The entire process involves many steps, including: 'the identification of sponsors; the submission by a sponsor of the application for release and supporting documentation; the evaluation of the suitability of the sponsor, including verification of the sponsor's identity and relationship to the child, background checks, and in some cases home studies; and planning for post-release,'" the declaration says.
"Under the panel's order, she will be pushed into November, pushing her closer to the point at which abortion is barred under Texas law," according to the ACLU. Texas law restricts most abortions after 20 weeks.
The ACLU said the teen is not seeking assistance from the government to obtain the abortion, as her court-appointed representatives will transport her to the health facility and private funds will pay for the procedure.
"Our government has held her in this unlawful position for almost a month; this Court should not allow this injustice to continue any longer," the ACLU stated.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said last week he was "disappointed" with the federal appeals court's decision because it gives the federal government time to find a sponsor for the teen "so she can be taken for an abortion."
"Unlawfully present aliens with no substantial ties to the US do not have a right to abortion on demand," Paxton said. "Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions."