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Supreme Court Throws Out Lower Court Ruling On Undocumented Immigrants And Abortion


We've got a lot of news out of the Supreme Court this morning. There are at least two major developments. First, the court has ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the decision that it's a matter of First Amendment protections and, quote, "the reason and motive for the baker's refusal were based on his sincere religious beliefs and convictions." We'll tell you more about that case later on this morning. And the justices have also thrown out a lower court order that allowed an immigrant teenager, who was in the country illegally, to get an abortion last year. Now this could have consequences for other girls and women who are in this country illegally. NPR's Sarah McCammon is on the line with us.

Good morning, Sarah.


KING: So remind us what this case was about.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. This case got a lot of attention last year. It was a 17-year-old immigrant, an undocumented young woman in the country without her parents. She was in federal custody in Texas under the control of the federal Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, which takes responsibility for a lot of young people in these kinds of situations. And she had a judge's permission to bypass a state law in Texas. In Texas, you have to get parental consent to have an abortion. She had a judge's permission to bypass that. But the Trump administration, who, again, was in charge of her, refused to allow her to leave to get the abortion. The Trump administration said they were looking out for her best interest. Reproductive rights advocates said they were violating her right to an abortion. Ultimately, the American Civil Liberties Union joined the case and eventually got an order from a D.C. circuit court of appeals allowing her to get the abortion, which went ahead in October. And she did get the procedure then.

KING: All right, so she did terminate her pregnancy. What did the court order today?

MCCAMMON: So this throws out that Court of Appeals order that forced the Trump administration to allow her to go forward with the abortion. But the reason that the court gives here is that it was a moot question since the young woman had already had the abortion by the time the case reached the court. So the court isn't really weighing in here on a lot of the legal nitty-gritty or the big, larger questions at stake, like whether an undocumented immigrant has the same right to an abortion as an American citizen, for example.

The court also didn't address the administration's claim that they were misled. They said that the abortion was obtained before they had a chance to appeal. And I should mention that Texas requires a woman to wait 24 hours after counseling to get an abortion. The government had thought she was going in for counseling, but she'd already been counseled before she went in and got that abortion, so the government said they didn't have a chance to appeal. So it leaves a lot of questions still open.

KING: Yeah. What is the significance then here? What are the questions that are still open?

MCCAMMON: Well, it means that, you know, this court order that allowed the young woman to go forward with the abortion - that's off the books, so it really sets no precedent.


MCCAMMON: But it could have ramifications for other women who are in this situation.

KING: And so this is not the final word - right? - the - not a final decision. Is that a fair way of putting it?

MCCAMMON: Right. Reproductive rights advocates say there are many women - it's hard to know exactly how many young women are in this situation of being - you know, especially if they're under age 18 - undocumented in the country, under the control of the federal government. They say there are more women who've been in this situation, are in this situation of wanting an abortion. And so there's still this bigger question out there of whether the government can block them from getting abortions, and that's still being litigated to some extent.

KING: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Sarah, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.