Appeals Court Paves the Way for Migrant Teen to Get an Abortion

The Trump administration can still decide to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Scott Applewhite/AP

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered the Trump administration to allow Jane Doe—an undocumented pregnant minor currently being housed in a federal refugee shelter in Texas—to obtain the abortion she has sought since the middle of September. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has for weeks refused to allow Doe to leave the shelter to obtain the abortion, citing their opposition to facilitating the procedure even after Doe secured a state court order authorizing it, as well as private funding and transportation.  

The highly-watched case has gone through many court challenges since late September. Doe was scheduled to have her state-mandated counseling appointment on September 28, with the abortion procedure to follow the next day. However the ORR-contracted shelter where she is being housed, and at the federal office’s direction, refused to transport her to the appointment. Instead they took her to a counseling session at a religiously-affiliated, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. This kicked off a series of court challenges—first in Texas, and now in Washington, DC. 

Last Friday, a three-judge panel on the DC circuit ruled in the Trump administration’s favor, putting a stay on a District Court order that required the government to allow Doe to go to her abortion appointments and gave HHS 11 days to find Doe a sponsor who would take her out of government custody, thereby rendering the case moot. The ruling meant more delays for Doe, who is approaching the 16th week of pregnancy and, because of the ongoing legal back-and-forth, is coming up against the Texas ban on abortion after 20 weeks.

In response, ACLU attorneys for Doe asked for an en banc review of the case by the DC circuit—in which all the court’s judges assess the case. This was granted and the court ruled on the case on Tuesday without hearing additional oral arguments from either side. The majority decision lifted the stay on the District Court’s order, requiring the government to promptly allow Doe’s abortion and asking the District Court to update the government’s deadlines for compliance with the order.

“Fortunately, today’s decision rights a grave constitutional wrong by the government,” wrote Judge Patricia Millett in a concurring opinion. 

But Doe may still have a few hurdles to jump through before obtaining her abortion: The government can still decide to appeal this decision up to the Supreme Court. 

You can read the full court order and attached opinions below: