Federal appeals court grants teen immigrant right to abortion

Federal appeals court grants teen immigrant right to abortion

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] 6-3 that a 17-year-old unidentified, undocumented immigrant has the right to obtain an abortion.

A week earlier, the same court through a three-judge panel temporarily blocked [JURIST report] a lower court ruling permitting the teen immigrant to have an abortion, noting that it needed time to consider the emergency motion.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) [official website], as well as other federal and state officials, claimed the teen had no inherent right [NPR report] to an elective abortion in the US due to her status as an undocumented immigrant.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Milett wrote:

[T]oday’s decision rights a grave constitutional wrong by the government. … Where the government bulldozed over constitutional lines was its position that an unaccompanied child … has the burden of extracting herself from custody if she wants to exercise the right to an abortion that the government does not dispute she has. The government has insisted that it may categorically blockade exercise of her constitutional right unless this child (like some kind of legal Houdini) figures her own way out of detention by either (i) surrendering any legal right she has to stay in the United States and returning to the abuse from which she fled, or (ii) finding a sponsor—effectively, a foster parent—willing to take custody of her and to not interfere in any practical way with her abortion decision. That is constitutionally untenable. Settled precedent, establishes that the government may not put substantial and unjustified obstacles in the way of a woman’s exercise of her right to an abortion pre-viability. [A] pregnant minor who (i) has an unquestioned constitutional right to choose a pre-viability abortion, and (ii) has satisfied every requirement of state law to obtain an abortion, need not wait additional weeks just because she [is in government custody].

The case was remanded to a lower court to determine the appropriate dates for compliance with the ruling. A federal district court issued an order [press release] granting her access to an abortion, which took place on Wednesday.