US court sides with illegal immigrant teen seeking an abortion

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 17-year-old illegal immigrant in federal custody in Texas can have an abortion immediately despite the objections of President Donald Trump's administration, a U.S. appeals court decided on Tuesday in a ruling spearheaded by Democratic-appointed judges.

The 6-3 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit split along ideological lines, with Democratic-appointed judges backing the teenager who requested an abortion and Republican appointees siding with the Republican president's administration.

"Surely the mere act of entry into the United States without documentation does not mean that an immigrant's body is no longer her or his own," Judge Patricia Millett, appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama, wrote in an opinion supporting the ruling.

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An anti-abortion protester with tape over her mouth demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court before the court handed a victory to abortion rights advocates, striking down a Texas law imposing strict regulations on abortion doctors and facilities in Washington June 27, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on the morning that the court took up a major abortion case focusing on whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy in Washington March 2, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Anti-Trump demonstrator protests at abortion rights rally in Chicago, Illinois, January 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Pro-choice activists celebrate on the steps of the United States Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down one of the nation's toughest restrictions on abortion, a Texas law that women's groups said would have forced more than three-quarters of the state's clinics to close.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Pro-life activists gather outside the Supreme Court for the National March for Life rally in Washington, DC, U.S. January 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Pro-life activists gather for the National March for Life rally in Washington January 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Pro-Choice supporters of Planned Parenthood rally outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. February 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

A man holds up a rosary in front of competing demonstrators displaying pro-life and pro-choice signs as the annual March for Life concludes at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, U.S. January 27, 2017.

(REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

Siberian Husky Tasha wears a "Huskies for Choice" sign while held by her pro-abortion owner Michelle Kinsey Bruns in front of the Supreme Court during the National March for Life rally in Washington January 22, 2016. The rally marks the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade.

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

A man stands during an anti-Planned Parenthood vigil outside the Planned Parenthood - Margaret Sanger Health Center in Manhattan, New York, U.S., February 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Andrew Kelly)

Karen Lieber joined anti-abortion activists protesting in front of Planned Parenthood, Far Northeast Surgical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., February 11, 2017.

(REUTERS/Charles Mostoller)

Anti-abortion supporters Marian Rumley, Taylor Miller and Sophie Caticchio from Minnesota listen to speeches at the National March for Life rally in Washington January 22, 2016. The rally marks the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade.

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

The Franciscan Friars Minor gather between The Supreme Court of the United States and The Capitol Building during the 44th annual March for Life January 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. Anti-abortion advocates descended on the US capital on Friday for an annual march expected to draw the largest crowd in years, with the White House spotlighting the cause and throwing its weight behind the campaign.

(ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Pro-choice and pro-life activists demonstrate on the steps of the United States Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down one of the nation's toughest restrictions on abortion, a Texas law that women's groups said would have forced more than three-quarters of the state's clinics to close.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Pro-life activists pray on the steps of the United States Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down one of the nation's toughest restrictions on abortion, a Texas law that women's groups said would have forced more than three-quarters of the state's clinics to close.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Pro-choice demonstrators at the U.S. Supreme Court cheer as they learn the court struck down the Texas abortion law on Monday, June 27, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

View of demonstrators in front of the United Nations as they protest against a proposed abortion ban in Poland, New York, New York, April 17, 2016.

(Photo by Chuck Fishman/Getty Images)

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After the ruling, her lawyers asked a judge to allow the girl, who is about 15 weeks pregnant, to have an abortion as soon as Wednesday. The judge then issued an order saying the girl should be allowed to go to an abortion clinic "promptly and without delay."

The appeals court ruling overturned a decision by a three-judge panel of the same court last Friday that had prevented the girl from having an immediate abortion. The administration still could ask the Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority, to hear the case. A Justice Department spokesman said officials are "reviewing the order" and declined to comment further.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a Republican appointee, said in a dissenting opinion that the court had embraced "a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand."

Another Republican appointee, Judge Karen Henderson, wrote separately that she had little problem concluding that illegal immigrants do not have a right to have an elective abortion.

"To conclude otherwise rewards lawlessness and erases the fundamental difference between citizenship and illegal presence in our country," Henderson said.

But Millett wrote that Tuesday's decision "rights a grave constitutional wrong by the government." The Supreme Court legalized abortion for Americans in 1973.

The case involves the intersection of two divisive social issues on which Trump has taken a hard line: abortion and immigration. Among the issues the dispute raises is whether illegal immigrant women have the same rights to an abortion as U.S. residents.

The girl, whose nationality has not been disclosed, entered the United States without any family in September and was immediately detained by U.S. authorities and placed in a shelter in Texas for unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors.

'BASIC DECENCY'

"Every step of the way, the Trump administration has shown their true colors in this case. It's clear that their anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-immigration agenda is unchecked by basic decency or even the bounds of the law," said Brigitte Amiri, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents the girl.

"No one should have to go to court to get a safe, legal abortion," Amiri added.

In Friday's decision, the three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the girl must delay plans for an abortion while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) signed off on a person who could act as an official U.S. sponsor, allowing her to get the procedure without government involvement.

The administration said in legal papers that while the girl is in federal custody, she is subject to its policy of refusing to facilitate abortions.

"And the government may legitimately express a preference for childbirth over abortion, even if such a preference may have practical effects or limits on a woman's exercise of her right to an abortion," the government said.

The teenager had sought and received a Texas court order to approve the abortion because she is under 18, and had scheduled a sonogram and consultation with a physician, as required by state law. But the government refused to let her leave the detention center to carry out those steps.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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