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Judge orders Trump administration to let two immigrant teens get abortions

A judge's gavel rests on top of a desk in a court room. 

Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Last Updated Dec 19, 2017 12:20 PM EST

A federal judge on Monday ordered the Trump administration to allow two pregnant immigrant teenagers in U.S. custody to obtain abortions.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said the Republican administration can't prevent the 17-year-old girls from exercising their right to an abortion. Hours later, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to block one of the abortions. 

Both girls arrived in the country as unaccompanied minors and are being held in federal shelters, though it is not known precisely where. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) went to court on behalf of the two girls, as it did in the case of another 17-year-old girl who was able to obtain an abortion in October following a high-profile court fight.

"The judge's decision is a reminder that both the law and justice are on our side. We've already seen the courts rule in favor of Jane Doe, and today justice prevailed for two more young women like her," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement after Chutkan's decision. "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. We're prepared to keep fighting for as long as we need to."

The current controversy stems from the Trump administration's opposition to abortion and its decision to change the policy of the Obama administration concerning minors who are detained trying to enter the country. Earlier this year, the office in the Health and Human Services Department that oversees the shelters prohibited them from taking steps to facilitate an abortion without its direct approval. The cases intersect two of the most controversial issues for the Trump administration — abortion and illegal immigration

One teen is about 10 weeks pregnant, and the other is now about 22 weeks pregnant. The girl "is quickly approaching the limit for abortion in the state where she is being detained," the ACLU argued in its lawsuit.

Lawyers for the government made clear at a court hearing earlier Monday that the administration would not allow her to have an abortion, Chutkan said in her ruling. 

The administration appealed the judge's ruling because it applied to the teenager who is 10 weeks along. It did not seek to stop the teenager who is about 22 weeks pregnant from having an abortion.

Late Monday, an appeals court in Washington said the teenager who is 10 weeks along in her pregnancy must wait at least another day to have an abortion so that the court has more time to consider the case.

Scott Lloyd, the head of the HHS office that oversees the shelters, said in an email that facilities under HHS "should not be supporting abortion services pre or post-release," but rather "life-affirming options counseling."

Chutkan said the HHS office continues to claim "ultimate authority to unilaterally veto the reproductive choices of the unaccompanied minors in its custody."

Government lawyers have not explicitly said whether they believe immigrants who are here illegally have a constitutional right to abortion. Government lawyers have maintained that the teens are free to be released to sponsors or return to their home countries, but that the government doesn't have an obligation to in any way facilitate their abortions. 

The federal appeals court in Washington ruled for the third teenager in October, and her abortion took place without the administration asking the Supreme Court to step in.

That teenager is being held in Texas, where minors need either their parents' consent or a judge's approval for an abortion. The other two girls are in states where minors don't need consent, the ACLU said, but it has refused to identify the states or say where the teens are from.