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Admin can’t block undocumented pregnant teens in US custody from seeking abortions, judge says

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Monday that the Trump administration could not obstruct two undocumented pregnant teens in US custody from seeking abortions.

In her order, US District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan required the administration to allow the two teens to be transported to an abortion provider “in order to obtain any pregnancy related or abortion-related medical care and to obtain the abortion procedure itself.”

Chutkan held that the teens would suffer “irreparable injury” without the order and said that she issued it in view of the need to preserve the girls’ “constitutional right to decide whether to carry their pregnancies to term.”

The judge did agree to stay her ruling for 24 hours pending appeal.

The Department of Justice said it would appeal the ruling.

At issue are two teens, known in court papers as “Jane Poe and Jane Roe.” They are both pregnant undocumented 17 year-olds, being held in US custody in two different, undisclosed states.

The ACLU, representing the teens, sought a temporary restraining order from the court to prohibit the federal government from blocking the teens’ access to abortion.

“Absent an immediate temporary restraining order, Ms. Roe and Ms. Poe will both be pushed further into their pregnancies, increasing the risks associated with the abortion procedure, and if, the Court does not intervene, Ms. Roe and Ms. Poe will be forced to carry to term against their will,” Brigitte Amiri, an ACLU lawyer, argued in court papers.

Separate from the request for emergency relief, the ACLU is also seeking class certification and a permanent injunction against what it says is the Trump administration’s new policy from March prohibiting all federally funded shelters from taking any action to facilitate abortion access for unaccompanied minors. That request is still pending.

Roe is about 10 weeks pregnant, according to the ACLU. The government contends that it is working on finding her a sponsor and that the process is “near completion.”

According to the government, Poe is nearly 22 weeks pregnant, and as recently as December 4, she told officials she wanted to continue with the pregnancy. The ACLU disputes the government’s assertion and argued that Poe is “quickly approaching the point at which abortion will no longer be an option. ”

August E. Flentje, the administration lawyer, said in court briefs that the government has “strong and constitutionally legitimate interests in promoting its interest in life, in refusing to facilitate abortion and in not providing incentives for pregnant minors to illegally cross the border to obtain elective abortions while in federal custody. ”

The parties argued a similar case before her last month concerning a teen being held in Texas who is called “Jane Doe” in court papers. Chutkan ruled in favor of Doe and the teen also prevailed in a federal appeals court. After that ruling, Doe obtained an abortion. But the Solicitor General later filed papers with the Supreme Court asking the justices to vacate that opinion and arguing that it was not aware the procedure was to go forward before it could file an appeal. That case is still before the justices.

In a statement, Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, called the judge’s decision Monday “a reminder that both the law and justice are on our side” and cited the Texas case.

“Unfortunately, the Trump administration has shown no indication that they’ll abandon their cruel and dystopian crusade to block abortion access for some of the most marginalized people in our country,” Amiri said. “We’re prepared to keep fighting for as long as we need to.”

In Court on Monday, Flentje distinguished the most recent case from the “Doe” case, noting that while Doe lived in a state that required a judicial waiver before the minor could obtain an abortion, the states involved in the latest case do not require such a waiver.”