By Lawrence Hurley and Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday prevented a pregnant teen detained by the government as an illegal immigrant from immediately obtaining an abortion while leaving open the possibility that she could undergo the procedure within days.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on a 2-1 vote gave the government until Oct. 31 to approve a sponsor who could help her obtain the procedure without the government's assistance.
The court said that if the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) signed off on the sponsor, the girl "will be lawfully able, if she chooses, to obtain an abortion on her own."
The court said the requirement that a sponsor be found does not "unduly burden" the girl's right to an abortion under Supreme Court precedent.
The 17-year-old girl from an unidentified country, currently detained in Texas, has sought an abortion over the government's opposition. She entered the country without her family in September and was immediately detained by the federal government and placed in a shelter.
A federal judge in Washington this week ruled the procedure could go ahead.
The government obtained a temporary order blocking the decision until the appeals court ruled. The government has said it does not want to facilitate the procedure.
The appeals court said that if the teen could not find a sponsor, she could renew her legal claim.
The girl, who is 15 weeks pregnant, sought and received a Texas court order to approve the abortion because she is under 18, and has scheduled a sonogram and consultation with a physician, as required by state law.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, an office of HHS, refused to let her leave the detention center to carry out those steps.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has taken up the girl's case, said in a court filing that the Office of Refugee Resettlement revised its procedures in March to mandate that abortions for under-age detainees required office approval.
The policy change came weeks after the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican who campaigned on promises to clamp down on illegal immigration and seek new restrictions on women's access to abortions.
The three-judge panel was comprised of two Republican appointees and one Democratic appointee, Patricia Millett, who was the sole dissenter. One of the judges in the majority, Brett Kavanaugh, is considered a possible contender for a seat on the Supreme Court if Trump has a future vacancy to fill.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Lawrence Hurley)