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Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Case of Undocumented Teen's Abortion Request

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., held a hearing Friday to address the Trump administration's request for an emergency order to prevent a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant in federal custody from having an abortion.

The minor, known in court documents as Jane Doe, was detained in September in Texas shortly after crossing the border. She received a judicial waiver to a state requirement that minors obtain parental consent for an abortion, and a district court ruled that the federal government must "promptly and without delay" allow the teen to visit an abortion provider near the detention facility where she is being held.

But federal officials appealed the district court decision, arguing on Friday in front of a three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that the Department of Health and Human Services does not have to "facilitate" the teen's abortion.

The court has yet to reach a decision, and the judges appeared hesitant to hand down a precedent-setting decision on abortion rights. "We're being pushed in a span of 24 hours to make a sweeping constitutional ruling in one direction or another," said Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush appointee. "And when that happens the Supreme Court and this court look for—are there other avenues to resolving a dispute short of that, initially, and it seems to me in this case, if she were released to a sponsor, that would solve the government’s objection."

Judge Patricia Millett questioned whether there was enough time to set up such a sponsorship before Doe's pregnancy progressed too far. Doe has already been forced to wait three weeks for the procedure, and she in now in her second trimester. "Every day she remains pregnant takes a toll on her physical and emotional health," Brigitte Amiri, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the court.