WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court sought a compromise solution Friday in a dispute between a 17-year-old undocumented teenager who wants an abortion and a federal agency that doesn't want to help her get it.
A three-judge panel that includes two Republican appointees gave the Trump administration until Oct. 31 to find a sponsor for the girl, who crossed from Mexico to Texas last month and is 15 weeks pregnant. That would facilitate the abortion without involving the Department of Health and Human Services.
"The government argues that this process ... does not unduly burden the minor's right under Supreme Court precedent to an abortion," the court said. "We agree, so long as the process of securing a sponsor to whom the minor is released occurs expeditiously."
Government lawyers had argued in federal district and appeals courts that the girl could return to Mexico for an abortion. But the American Civil Liberties Union argued that would deny her the chance to remain in the United States, and that finding a sponsor could take too long.
The ruling was unsigned, but two of the three judges announced they would write separate opinions -- one concurring, one dissenting. The third is Judge Brett Kavanaugh, an appointee of President George W. Bush and a leading candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Patricia Millett, an appointee of President Barack Obama, issued a harsh dissent. "Forcing her to continue an unwanted pregnancy," she said, sacrifices the teen's "constitutional liberty, autonomy and personal dignity for no justifiable governmental reason."
If a sponsor cannot be found in the next 11 days, the court said, the matter would return to a district court judge who had ordered the government to allow the abortion. Either side then could appeal any new ruling in the case.
“Justice is delayed yet again for this courageous and persistent young woman," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. "She continues to be held hostage and prevented from getting an abortion because the Trump administration disagrees with her personal decision.”
The Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement late Friday that it will "protect" the teenager and others.
“For however much time we are given, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and HHS will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies in our facilities, and we will defend human dignity for all in our care," the statement said.