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Supreme Court Vacates Ruling Allowing Immigrant Teen to Obtain Abortion

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Last year, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of an immigrant minor's request that she be permitted to obtain an abortion, though she was in federal custody. Although the teen has since gotten the procedure, turned 18, and been released, the Supreme Court today vacated that decision, meaning it can no longer be used as precedent in future cases.

What did the Court actually say regarding the matter? And what does that mean for similarly situated immigrant women?

Doe's Decision

Jane Doe was a minor when she was detained for unlawfully crossing the border into the United States. She was placed into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and after an initial medical examination, found out she was eight weeks pregnant. She requested an abortion, but ORR would not allow Doe to go to an abortion clinic, claiming it could not "facilitate" abortions for undocumented minors in federal custody.

The day after the D.C. Circuit's ruling, though, and before the government could file an emergency appeal, Doe obtained the abortion at a Texas clinic. That rendered her personal case moot, but what about future cases?

Courts, Custody, and the Crossfire

The Supreme Court ruling today invalidated the D.C. Circuit's ruling as it pertains to future cases, so it cannot be relied on as precedent. It does not, however, immediately affect another court order in place that temporarily allows undocumented girls in federal custody to get abortions. It also does impact a broader challenge to the government's policy for pregnant teens in federal immigration custody that is making its way through a district court in Washington.

And the decision itself was unique. Just five pages, and without published dissent, the Court issued an "anodyne statement" according to the Washington Post, who speculated that the "short, unsigned opinion obscured what was likely a divisive behind-the-scenes disagreement." Rather than issue a potentially landmark opinion in a moot case, the justices probably decided to wait on the larger challenge to make its way to the Court.

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