WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court issued a narrow decision this morning vacating an appeals court ruling that allowed a young immigrant woman, known as Jane Doe, to obtain an abortion over the objections of the Trump administration. The decision does not affect the ongoing-class action lawsuit challenging the government’s policy barring young immigrant women in government custody from getting abortions.
The case will now go back to the lower courts where the American Civil Liberties Union has already obtained a preliminary injunction blocking the administration’s policy. The Supreme Court’s decision considered only whether the trial court’s decision requiring the government to provide abortion access to Jane Doe had become moot, given that she had the abortion. It did not reverse or comment on the appeals court’s reasoning and did not address the underlying claims regarding access to abortion.
“Today’s decision doesn’t affect our ongoing efforts to ensure that all Janes can get an abortion if they need one. The district court has blocked the Trump administration’s cruel policy of obstructing unaccompanied immigrant minors’ access to abortion while the case continues, and we won’t stop until we strike it down once and for all,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
After the administration barred Doe, an unaccompanied immigrant minor in federal custody at a government-funded shelter, from obtaining an abortion for a month, a federal court found that the government’s interference with her decision likely violated her constitutional rights and ordered the government to step aside. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the government’s request to put a hold on that order.
The Trump administration could have taken an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court, but failed to do so, and Doe had her abortion the next day. Nine days later, under pressure from abortion opponents, the Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to vacate the appeals court’s ruling.
Today’s ruling vacates the appeals court’s decision, but does not affect the trial’s court decision certifying a class of pregnant immigrant minors and preliminarily blocking the Trump administration’s policy.
“In the time since we succeeded in stopping the Trump administration from blocking Jane Doe’s abortion, at least three more young women have come forward who were being barred from getting abortions,” Amiri said. “To the Janes out there, we’ll keep fighting for you. To the government, we’ll continue to see you in court.”
The Department of Justice has attempted to blame the ACLU for the government’s failure to file an appeal with the Supreme Court in time to block Doe’s abortion, arguing that the ACLU acted unethically by not informing the Department of Justice about the precise timing of the abortion. But legal experts have explained that had the ACLU done so, it would have been contrary to their client’s interests and their ethical obligations, and they have described the administration’s request as an alarming attempt to intimidate civil rights lawyers from doing their jobs. The Supreme Court declined the government’s request to sanction the ACLU lawyers.
“We are gratified that the court rejected this extraordinary request,” said David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU. “In protecting a woman’s access to abortion, the lower courts did what they are supposed to do. And the ACLU did what lawyers are supposed to do, namely, pursue the best interests of our clients.”
Doe’s treatment is part of a new Trump administration policy to block access to abortion for young immigrants in detention. Since Doe was allowed to obtain her abortion in October, the three women who came forward saying they were being blocked from getting abortions have become plaintiffs in the ACLU’s lawsuit challenging the policy. On March 30, the district court ruled that the case could proceed as a class action, and it blocked the policy while the case continues. The government has pursued an appeal of that order.
Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin LLP was lead counsel on the case in the Supreme Court. ACLU lawyers on the case include Amiri, David Cole, Meagan Burrows, Jennifer Dalven, Lindsey Kaley, and Daniel Mach; Arthur Spitzer, Scott Michelman, Shana Knizhnik of the ACLU of the District of Columbia; Melissa Goodman of the ACLU of Southern California; Elizabeth Gill of the ACLU of Northern California; and Mishan Wroe of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP.
More information about the case, Garza v. Hargan, is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/garza-v-hargan-challenge-trump-administrations-attempts-block-abortions-young-immigrant-women