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Government says teen’s lawyers misled them in abortion case

In this Oct. 20, 2017, photo, activists with Planned Parenthood demonstrate in support of a pregnant 17-year-old being held in a Texas facility for unaccompanied immigrant children to obtain an abortion, outside of the Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
By Jessica Gresko Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Friday accused lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of misleading the administration in the case of a pregnant immigrant teen who sought and obtained an abortion following a lawsuit.

The Department of Justice said Friday that the teen’s abortion was moved up without its lawyers’ knowledge, which meant administration lawyers didn’t appeal to the case to the Supreme Court before the procedure took place. The administration is now asking the Supreme Court to vacate a lower court ruling in favor of the teen, who entered the country illegally and is being held in a federal facility for unaccompanied minors in Texas.

The 17-year-old had an abortion on Oct. 25 after the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in her favor. The Department of Justice says its attorneys were told that the procedure would occur Oct. 26. The teen’s name and country of origin have been withheld because she’s a minor, and she is referred to in court paperwork as Jane Doe.

“After informing Justice Department attorneys that the procedure would occur on October 26th, Jane Doe’s attorneys scheduled the abortion for the early morning hours of October 25th, thereby thwarting Supreme Court review,” Department of Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement Friday, adding that “discipline may be warranted against Jane Doe’s attorneys.”

ACLU Legal Director David Cole defended his organization’s lawyers.

“This administration has gone to astounding lengths to block this young woman from getting an abortion. Now, because they were unable to stop her, they are raising baseless questions about our conduct. Our lawyers acted in the best interest of our client and in full compliance with the court orders and federal and Texas law. That government lawyers failed to seek judicial review quickly enough is their fault, not ours,” Cole said in a statement.

The teen was put in government custody after illegally entering the U.S. in September. She learned she was pregnant while in the government shelter. She obtained a state court order on Sept. 25 permitting an abortion. But federal officials refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her for the procedure.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees facilities for unaccompanied minors who enter the United States illegally, argued it had established a policy of “refusing to facilitate” abortions for people in its care. The ACLU sued the government on the teen’s behalf.