The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court today asking for possible disciplinary action against the attorneys that represented an undocumented minor who had an abortion over objections from the Trump administration.
On behalf of the administration, DOJ attorneys also asked the court to vacate the lower court ruling that cleared the way for the teen, known as "Jane Doe," to have the procedure.
Last week, the full panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of an undocumented pregnant 17-year-old who has been fighting in the courts for the right to leave a government-funded detention facility in Texas to have an abortion.
On Oct. 25, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which was representing the teen in court, announced that she had had an abortion early that morning.
A few weeks before the arguments in federal court, the 17-year-old received a state judicial order granting her permission to have an abortion without parental consent, which is required by Texas state law.
The teen arrived in the United States illegally as an unaccompanied minor, which put her under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The department argued that it did not want to "facilitate" the abortion.
The administration today accused the ACLU of misleading the government on the timing of the teen's abortion.
"After informing Justice Department attorneys that the procedure would occur on October 26th, Jane Doe’s attorneys scheduled the abortion for the early morning hours of October 25th, thereby thwarting Supreme Court review. In light of that, the Justice Department believes the judgment under review should be vacated, and discipline may be warranted against Jane Doe’s attorneys," said Department of Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley.
In its latest court filing, the administration argued that while the teen's lawyers have a duty to "zealously advocate" on behalf of their client, "They also have duties to this Court and to the Bar."
Government attorneys wrote that it "appears under the circumstances that those duties may have been violated, and that disciplinary action may therefore be warranted."
The ACLU accused the administration of failing to file a timely appeal to the Supreme Court and taking the "extraordinary step of seeking to vacate a lower court ruling protecting reproductive rights," in a statement in response to the administration's petition.
"This administration has gone to astounding lengths to block this young woman from getting an abortion. Now, because they were unable to stop her, they are raising baseless questions about our conduct. Our lawyers acted in the best interest of our client and in full compliance with the court orders and federal and Texas law. That government lawyers failed to seek judicial review quickly enough is their fault, not ours," said ACLU Legal Director David Cole in a statement.
According to ABC News Supreme Court contributor Kate Shaw, although the request that the Court vacate the lower court opinion is not unusual, it is quite surprising to see DOJ ask the Court to intervene in a disciplinary matter.
"This just isn't the sort of thing the Supreme Court would typically wade into," Shaw said.
The teen's court battle and public plea to end her pregnancy sparked a social media campaign, with the hashtag #JusticeforJane calling on the government to allow her to leave the facility for an abortion.
The 17-year-old also issued a statement through her guardian last week, saying, "No one should be shamed for making the right decision for themselves."
"I’m a 17-year-old girl that came to this country to make a better life for myself. My journey wasn’t easy, but I came here with hope in my heart to build a life I can be proud of. I dream about studying, becoming a nurse, and one day working with the elderly," she wrote.
She went on to say that she found out she was pregnant after being placed in a shelter for children and "knew immediately" that she was "not ready to be a parent."
The teen said that the government was providing her with most of her needs while in the shelter, but did not allow her to leave to get an abortion. Instead, they made her see a doctor that tried to convince her not to abort and to look at sonograms, she wrote.
"This is my life, my decision. I want a better future. I want justice," she concluded.