Supreme Court throws out immigrant teen abortion ruling

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling that let a pregnant illegal immigrant minor held in federal immigration custody to obtain an abortion last year at age 17 over the objections of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The action by the justices provided a legal victory to Trump’s administration even though the teenager already has had the abortion because it eliminated a precedent at the federal appeals court level that could have applied in similar circumstances in which detained minors sought abortions.

In the unsigned opinion with no dissents, the justices threw out the appeals court decision on the grounds that the dispute became moot once the unnamed teenager had the abortion.

The justices, however, declined to take up the administration’s request for disciplinary action against the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers who represented the girl, who underwent an abortion in Texas last October. The administration had accused the ACLU lawyers of misleading the Justice Department over when she would have the abortion.

The court also allowed litigation to continue in lower courts concerning other detained immigrants in detention in a similar situation.

The high court said that it takes misconduct allegations against lawyers seriously but said “not all communication breakdowns constitute misconduct.”

The ACLU, which has filed a range of lawsuits against the administration, sued in Washington in October, seeking a decision on obtaining abortions that would be binding in any future cases that arise.

A 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalized abortion nationwide. One of the issues raised by the case is whether illegal immigrant women have the same right to an abortion as American citizens and legal residents.

The girl at the center of the legal fight had an abortion on Oct. 25, the day after a U.S. appeals court ruled against the Trump administration’s objections.

The Justice Department has said it was preparing to appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court when it learned she had already had the abortion early that morning.

While the case was pending at the Supreme Court, litigation continued in lower courts.

On March 30, a federal judge in Washington issued an injunction that prevents the administration from impeding access to abortion by detained immigrant minors. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan also certified a class action of similar minors to challenge the administration’s policy.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham

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