Appeals Court Stays Judge Who Ruled Undocumented Teen Must Be Allowed an Abortion

(Photo: Reuters/Sandy Huffaker)Protesters march in support of pro-life abortion legislation in front of the Federal Courthouse in San Diego, California, April 14, 2017.

A federal district judge in Washington, D.C. ruled Wednesday the federal government must allow an undocumented immigrant teen girl in its custody to obtain an elective abortion. However, the judge's ruling was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court on Thursday.

District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2013, issued a restraining order on Wednesday that could have forced the federal government to allow a 17-year-old Mexican girl who is being cared for in a federally-funded shelter in South Texas to obtain an abortion procedure as early as this Friday.

Specifically, Chutkan ordered the government to transport the girl, who is about 15 months pregnant, to an abortion clinic or allow her guardian to take her "without delay" to have an abortion counseling appointment on Thursday. Chutkan's order would have made it so that the girl, referred to in the case as Jane Doe, could abort her unborn child this upcoming Friday or Saturday.

Doe was detained by immigration officials in September after crossing the border illegally.

According to Courthouse News Service, Chutkan wrote that if the girl is not allowed to obtain the abortion procedure, she could "suffer irreparable injury in the form of, at a minimum, increased risk to her health, and perhaps the permanent inability to obtain a desired abortion to which she is legally entitled."

The Department of Justice appealed Chutkan's order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Justice Department asked the court to issue a stay on Chutkan's ruling so that the girl could not obtain an abortion this Friday or Saturday.

On Thursday, the federal appeals court temporarily stayed the lower court's order that the girl be allowed to obtain an abortion by Friday or Saturday, the Washington Post reports. However, the three-judge panel ruled that the girl should be allowed to go to a counseling session on Thursday.

The panel stated that the blocking of Chutkan's order simply gives the court "sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion for stay and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion."

In a statement Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, the entity that oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the care of undocumented minors in federally funded shelters, called Chutkan's order "troubling" and argued that it "exceeds the U.S. Constitution."

According to the department's statement, the decision "sets a dangerous precedent by opening our borders to any illegal children seeking taxpayer-supported, elective abortions."

"We are disheartened the ruling rewards ideologically motivated lawsuits filed in multiple courts by the ACLU and abortion advocates," the statement reads, according to the Washington Examiner. "Though the order overrides the policies and procedures of the Office of Refugee Resettlement designed to protect children and their babies who have illegally crossed the border, we will continue to provide them with excellent health care and protect their well-being in all our facilities."

Chutkan's ruling was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union, the left-leaning civil rights group that represents the girl in the case.

"Her courage and perseverance are incredible, but no one should have to go to court to get a safe, legal abortion," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. "And no one should be held hostage to the extreme anti-abortion views of a handful of government officials."

Politico reports that Chutkan has not yet ruled on a separate request from the ACLU to issue a permanent injunction to block HHS' recent policy that has prevented undocumented immigrant teens at federally funded shelters from obtaining abortions even when they are able to pay for the procedure. The current HHS policy is a reversal from the policy carried out under the Obama administration.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the pro-life advocacy group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement that Chutkan's ruling is "outrageous."

"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services took a simple position that it would protect the life and dignity of the teenage girl and her unborn child while in their care," Dannenfelser said. "Shame on this judge for overruling compassionate care and instead mandating that the U.S. government help facilitate an abortion for a teenage girl."

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