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SCOTUS ruling on undocumented teen's abortion isn't exactly a win for Trump

Despite a Supreme Court ruling in its favor, the Trump administration can't really declare a victory in the case of Jane Doe, an immigrant minor who wanted an abortion.

by Carter Sherman
Jun 5 2018, 2:04pm

Despite a Supreme Court ruling in its favor, the Trump administration can't really declare a victory in its ongoing battle to stop immigrant teenagers from obtaining abortions while in federal custody.

In fact, just hours after the Court finally waded into the legal battle Monday, a federal court rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to derail a class-action lawsuit over that very same issue.

The fight began last October when a Central American teenager known only as “Jane Doe” in court records sued the Trump administration, alleging that it sought to stop her from getting an abortion. Doe ultimately secured her abortion after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor. And in March, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan certified her case — which was later joined by three other teenagers, all armed with similar accusations — as a class-action lawsuit. She also ordered Trump officials to stop blocking undocumented minors from getting abortions.

In an unsigned opinion released Monday morning, however, the Supreme Court erased that initial D.C. Circuit Court decision. The Trump administration moved quickly to use that opinion in its battle to appeal Chutkan’s order, arguing in a letter filed Monday evening that the justices proved that Chutkan should never have given the case class-action status.

That argument didn’t work. In an order filed just 20 minutes after the administration’s letter, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected its appeal and left nearly all Chutkan’s order in place.

Read more: Exclusive: How the Trump administration tries to stop undocumented teens from getting abortions

“This [Supreme Court] opinion really only vacates the emergency order for Jane Doe to get her abortion and she already did,” explained Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, before the D.C. Circuit Court’s order. “That doesn’t really affect anything in our case. It doesn’t take away some sort of precedent that we were relying on. And in any event, we have Roe v. Wade. The government can’t ban abortion.”

Amiri went on, “If anyone is aware of any sort of problems accessing abortion for unaccompanied immigrant minors in custody, that’s a violation of a current court order and they should contact me.”

In its November request that the Supreme Court wipe out the D.C. Circuit Court ruling, the Trump administration also asked the justices to punish the ACLU’s attorneys, alleging that the civil rights organization had misled government lawyers about the timing of Doe’s abortion. Because government lawyers believed that Doe’s abortion wouldn’t take place for several days, according to their request, they delayed filing their appeal to the circuit court decision. It was only after Doe got her abortion that administration officials realized they’d missed the window to appeal.

The ACLU denied the administration’s allegations, and the justices ultimately declined to punish its attorneys.

“The Court takes allegations like those the Government makes here seriously, for ethical rules are necessary to the maintenance of a culture of civility and mutual trust within the legal profession,” the Supreme Court opinion read. Nevertheless, it added, “Not all communication breakdowns constitute misconduct.”

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency tasked with handling all teenagers who arrive in the United States without their parents and without authorization, didn’t immediately reply to a VICE News request for comment.

Antonia Hylton contributed reporting.

Cover image: Planned Parenthood Federation of America and coalition partners protested (that's Georgeanne Usova of the ACLU at left) together outside the Department of Health and Human Services in support of Jane Doe to have an abortion. Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images.