SCOTUS Dismisses Lower Court Decision That Allowed Immigrant Teen to Obtain Abortion

By Ayana Byrd Jun 05, 2018

On Monday (June 4), the Supreme Court dismissed a lower court’s decision that allowed an immigrant teenager of undocumented status to obtain an abortion. The earlier decision in Azar v. Garza has been rendered moot, meaning it cannot be cited as legal precedent in a broader challenge that would determine if unaccompanied, detained, pregnant teens seeking abortions can be blocked by the federal government.

The 17-year-old, identified as Jane Doe, was being held in federal custody under the supervision of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in September when she discovered that she was pregnant and chose to have an abortion. Per the Trump administration’s immigration policy, unaccompanied minors seeking an abortion must receive permission from Scott Lloyd, the director of ORR. Lloyd has no medical experience and a public anti-choice stance.

Doe’s request was denied, prompting a lawsuit on her behalf filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overruled the order that kept her from obtaining the procedure. On October 25, the teen terminated her pregnancy.

In a five-page order, SCOTUS took the position that once Jane Doe had the abortion, the teen’s claim against the government’s policy was moot—in other words, she no longer needed a change in policy because she had the procedure after the Court of Appeals decision and before the federal government could stop her through additional legal means. The Court wrote, "When ‘a civil case from a court in the federal system . . . has become moot while on its way here,’ this Court’s ‘established practice’ is ‘to reverse or vacate the judgment below and remand with a direction to dismiss.’"

Per The Washington Post, following yesterday’s SCOTUS decision:


The broader challenge to the policy is continuing to move forward, with the ACLU representing a class of undocumented teenagers challenging the policy. In March, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan imposed an order stopping the government from “interfering with or obstructing” access to any “pregnancy-related care” for teens detained in immigration custody.


In 2017, there were at least 420 pregnant unaccompanied minors in custody, including 18 who requested abortions.

After the SCOTUS ruling in Azar v. Garza, the Trump administration is still unable to keep undocumented teens from obtaining an abortion. Hours after the SCOTUS decision yesterday, Rewire.News reports, “the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia turned down a request from the Trump administration to restart its policy barring abortion care for unaccompanied minors in government custody. The administration’s policy remains blocked while the underlying case against the administration moves forward.”

The teen’s attorney, Brigitte Amiri of the ACLU, reiterated that the SCOTUS ruling was "limited" and will not deter the ACLU in its fight to change the administration’s policy. In a statement she said, “The government continues to do everything in its power to hold young women hostage to prevent them accessing abortion, and we will do everything we can to stop them.