WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union is pushing back against a claim by the Trump administration that ACLU attorneys acted improperly while helping an immigrant teenager held in federal custody obtain an abortion.
The government last month accused the ACLU of misleading the Justice Department during the high-profile case. In papers filed with the Supreme Court, the Justice Department said ACLU attorneys did not alert government lawyers that the teen’s abortion would take place sooner than they expected. That, the administration says, deprived its lawyers of the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the procedure, at least temporarily. The government suggested disciplinary action against ACLU attorneys might be appropriate.
On Monday evening, the ACLU responded in a filing with the Supreme Court. Representing the ACLU, attorney Carter G. Phillips, himself a Justice Department official during the Reagan administration, wrote there is no basis for disciplinary action against ACLU attorneys. He said the evidence shows ACLU attorneys made accurate statements about the logistics surrounding the abortion procedure.
Government lawyers failed to ask the Supreme Court to block the teen’s procedure in time “based on assumptions” they made about the timing of the procedure, “not on the basis of any commitments” from the teen’s lawyers, the brief says.
The case involves a 17-year-old immigrant referred to in court paperwork as Jane Doe. She entered the U.S. illegally in September and is being held in a federal facility for unaccompanied minors in Texas. She learned there that she was pregnant and obtained a state court order permitting her to have an abortion.
But federal officials refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her to get the procedure. Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for sheltering children who illegally enter the country unaccompanied by a parent, said the department has a policy of “refusing to facilitate” abortions and that releasing the teenager would require arranging a transfer of custody and follow-up care.
The ACLU sued the government on the teen’s behalf, and the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ultimately sided with her on Oct. 24, clearing the way for her to have the procedure, which she did on Oct. 25. The Justice Department says its attorneys were told that the procedure would occur on Oct. 26.
The government wants the Supreme Court to throw out the appeals court’s ruling in the teen, who remains in federal custody.
“Had it not been for court intervention, Ms. Doe would still be pregnant, against her will, today,” the ACLU wrote.