Justice Dept. alleges ACLU misled government about timing of teen's abortion

Justice Dept. alleges ACLU misled government about timing of teen's abortion
© Getty Images

The Justice Department has filed a petition with the Supreme Court alleging that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) misled the U.S. government about the timing of a young undocumented immigrant's abortion procedure late last month after a bitter legal fight.

In a petition for a writ of certiorari on Friday, the Justice Department asked the high court to vacate a lower court's decision permitting the 17-year-old immigrant — referred to in court documents as "Jane Doe" — to move forward with the abortion, and to weigh whether to discipline the girl's lawyers for allegedly lying to government attorneys.

“The government asked to be kept informed of the timing of Ms. Doe’s abortion procedure, and one of respondent’s counsel agreed to do so," the brief says, noting that government attorneys had notified Doe's lawyers at the time that they intended to file a stay application. 


But before Justice Department lawyers were able to file that stay, the girl left the Texas detention center where she was being held and obtained the abortion at 4:15 a.m., according to the brief. 

"Ms. Doe’s representatives did three things: they secured the services of Ms. Doe’s original physician (who had provided counseling the previous week), moved her appointment from 7:30 to 4:15 a.m. on the morning of October 25, and changed the appointment from counseling to an abortion," the brief says.

"Although Ms. Doe’s representatives informed the  government of the change in timing, they did not inform the government of the other two developments – which kept the government in the dark about when Ms. Doe was scheduled to have an abortion.”

Texas law requires women planning to undergo abortions to attend counseling 24 hours in advance of the procedure.

Doe's abortion ended her individual legal battle. But the case ignited an intense public debate in the U.S. touching on some of the country's most sensitive social and political issues, namely abortion and immigration.

The teenage girl, who is originally from Central America, was detained at the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year, and was told that she was pregnant after undergoing a medical examination. She decided to undergo an abortion, but the Trump administration blocked her from doing so, arguing that she had no constitutional right to the procedure in the U.S.

A whirlwind legal battle ensued, quickly making its way through the courts, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sent the case back to a U.S. district judge. That judge issued an order allowing Doe to have the abortion.

The Justice Department was expected to appeal that decision, but Doe received the abortion before government lawyers filed their stay application.

"The ACLU misled the United States as to the timing of Jane Doe's abortion," Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley said in a statement. Doe's attorneys told DOJ lawyers that the procedure would occur on Oct. 26, but changed plans and scheduled the procedure for Oct. 25, "thereby thwarting Supreme Court review," the spokesman said.

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTime to bring federal employees home for every holiday Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 MORE said in an interview on Fox News last week that he was "disturbed" by the timing and circumstances surrounding the procedure. 

"I don't believe that we should be using taxpayers’ dollars to fund abortions and I think in this case, it certainly was not justified," he said. "We've resisted it steadfastly and I'm very disappointed that these lawyers were able to take the client around the law to avoid a court hearing at least to see that we were filing."