Undocumented Teen Got Abortion Early, Tricking DOJ Lawyers, Trump Administration Says

Protesters march in support of anti-abortion legislation in front of the Federal Courthouse in San Diego, on April 14. The abortion debate had its first major battle under President Trump, when government lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union fought in court over an undocumented immigrant’s right to have the procedure. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker

Lawyers for a pregnant undocumented immigrant tricked Justice Department attorneys by scheduling the teenager's abortion in advance of a Supreme Court review that could have blocked the procedure, the Trump administration told the high court on Friday. It said the lawyers should face discipline for the deception.

The case has been called the first major abortion battle under President Donald Trump, and it highlights the heated controversy surrounding the issue.

Jane Doe, as the 17-year-old is called in court papers, came to the U.S. from Central America without her parents in September and was detained and placed in a government-funded shelter for children. Court papers say she learned she was pregnant when she was detained by federal agents after entering the U.S. She began trying to get an abortion while at the shelter, but the government did not allow it, and American Civil Liberties Union lawyers filed a lawsuit in early October arguing that she should be permitted to have the procedure.

The ACLU said Friday the Trump administration illegally barred the young woman from having an abortion for a month. On October 24, a court found the federal government's attempt to block the procedure was indeed unlawful, and she had an abortion the next day.

Now the Department of Justice (DOJ) is arguing that the ACLU "misled" its lawyers about the timing of the abortion so the procedure could be completed before government lawyers could present their case to the Supreme Court.

"After informing Justice Department attorneys that the procedure would occur on October 26, Jane Doe's attorneys scheduled the abortion for the early morning hours of October 25, thereby thwarting Supreme Court review," a DOJ spokesman said Friday. "In light of that, the Justice Department believes the judgment under review should be vacated and discipline may be warranted against Jane Doe's attorneys."

In a filing to the Supreme Court, government lawyers said that the ACLU agreed to keep them informed as to the timing of Jane Doe's abortion, but that the ACLU lawyers then moved her October 25 doctor's appointment to 4:15 a.m. from 7:30 a.m., and scheduled an abortion procedure instead of what was going to be a counseling session. Those moves "kept the government in the dark about when Ms. Doe was scheduled to have an abortion," the filing states.

Demonstrators hold placards during a Planned Parenthood rally outside the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, on April 5. Government lawyers claim the American Civil Liberties Union “kept the government in the dark about when [the teen] was scheduled to have an abortion.” REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman

The ACLU said in a statement that when the lower court gave Jane Doe permission to have the abortion, she had every right to follow through with the procedure and was under no obligation to wait for government lawyers to seek a stay of that order or to bring the case to the Supreme Court.

"The Trump administration blocked Jane Doe from getting constitutionally protected care for a month and subjected her to illegal obstruction, coercion, and shaming as she waited," ACLU Legal Director David Cole said in a statement. "After the courts cleared the way for her to get her abortion, it was the ACLU's job as her lawyers to see that she wasn't delayed any further—not to give the government another chance to stand in her way."

The teenager said in a statement on the day of her abortion that she came to the U.S. in search of a better life and wants to become a nurse and work with the elderly.

"No one should be shamed for making the right decision for themselves," she said in a statement released by the ACLU on October 25. "I would not tell any other girl in my situation what they should do. That decision is hers and hers alone."