In a partial victory for the Trump administration, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling requiring the government to facilitate an abortion for an undocumented minor in federal custody.
The unsigned five-page opinion did not issue a judgement as to the merits of the dispute but approved the administration’s request to vacate the ruling under a legal rule called Munsingwear vacatur. There was no noted dissent.
“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,” the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement after the ruling. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the federal government is not obligated to help a minor get an abortion and may choose policies favoring life over abortion.”
Munsingwear provides that a case which is mooted pending Supreme Court review should be expunged. Because the undocumented minor at issue procured an abortion before the justices could review the matter — thereby ending the dispute — the government argued Munsingwear should apply.
The case, Azar v. Garza, was occasioned in October 2017, when an undocumented teen in federal custody, known in court papers only as Jane Doe, learned she was pregnant and asked authorities to terminate her pregnancy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services refused, claiming it had no obligation to facilitate abortions for minors in their care.
The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit concluded the government’s actions imposed an undue burden on abortion access, in violation to the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The migrant terminated her pregnancy on Oct. 25, before the Department of Justice could appeal to the justices.
The administration also asked the high court to sanction the ACLU’s lawyers, arguing they made false representations as to the schedule of the migrant’s medical consultations in order to procure her abortion. The justice’s declined to act on the request.
“The Court need not delve into the factual disputes raised by the parties in order to answer the Munsingwear question here,” the decision reads.