Washington (AFP) - The US Supreme Court on Monday handed a win to the administration of President Donald Trump when it overturned a ruling that had allowed a pregnant teenage immigrant being held in US custody to seek an abortion.
The court nevertheless rejected calls by administration lawyers for disciplinary measures to be levied against the teenager's defense team, which they accused of rushing ahead with the abortion and denying them the chance to fight the lower court ruling.
The 17-year-old immigrant underwent the abortion last year.
Her case became the administration's first major battleground against abortion since coming to office early last year and taking a harder line against immigrants while favoring opponents of abortion.
The young woman, whose identity and nationality have not been disclosed and who is cited as "Jane Doe," was arrested after illegally entering the United States. Authorities gave her the choice of either not having an abortion, or accepting deportation in order to obtain a termination of her pregnancy elsewhere.
The American Civil Liberties Union took up the case, which became highly symbolic of the struggle for the rights of both women and undocumented migrants.
A federal appeals court ruled on October 24 last year that the young woman had the right to seek an abortion. The procedure was carried out early the next morning.
The Supreme Court overruled that decision, arguing the case had become moot once the abortion was obtained.
The decision to vacate the lower court's ruling means that it cannot be used as legal precedent in future cases of detained immigrant women seeking abortions.
The Justice Department welcomed the move. "We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision to set aside a lower court decision that allowed for an unaccompanied minor to receive an abortion while in federal custody," it said in a statement.
"The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the federal government is not required to facilitate abortions for minors and may choose policies favoring life over abortion. We look forward to continuing to press the government’s interest in the sanctity of life,” it said.
But Brigitte Amiri, the ACLU lawyer who argued the case for abortion, said that “today’s decision doesn’t affect our ongoing efforts to ensure that all ‘Janes’ can get an abortion if they need one.”
In its 130-page appeal to the Supreme Court, the government's lawyers said the young woman's defense lawyers had rushed ahead with the abortion, not allowing them the chance to pursue the legal case.