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DC court blocks for now immigrant teen's access to abortion

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Washington appeals court is blocking for now an abortion sought by a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant being held in a Texas facility, ruling Friday that the government should be given time to try to release her so she can obtain the abortion outside of its custody.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its ruling a few hours after hearing from lawyers for the Trump administration and the teen. The court ruled 2-1 that the government should have until Oct. 31 to release the girl into the custody of a so-called sponsor, such as an adult relative in the United States. If that happens, she could obtain an abortion if she chooses. If she isn't released, the case can go back to court.

The teen, whose name and country of origin have been withheld because she's a minor, is believed to be about 15 weeks pregnant. She has already waited for several weeks while her case has gone through the legal system. A lower court ruled earlier this week that she should be able to obtain an abortion Friday or Saturday, but the government appealed.

The teen, who crossed into the U.S. in September and learned she was pregnant while in custody in Texas, received a state court order permitting her to have an abortion. But federal officials have refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others may take her to have an abortion.

During arguments at the appeals court Friday morning, a lawyer arguing on behalf of the teen told the judges that all the government needs to do is "get out of the way."

But Trump administration lawyer Catherine Dorsey told the judges that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for sheltering children who illegally enter the country unaccompanied by a parent, has a policy of "refusing to facilitate" abortions and that releasing the teen would require arranging a transfer of custody and follow-up care.

The possibility of the teen being released to a sponsor was raised at the court hearing.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who was appointed by George W. Bush, suggested that releasing the teen to a sponsor would seem to be the best option. That, he said, would get the teen out of the facility where she is being held, allow her to obtain an abortion and leave the government out of it. Brigitte Amiri, a lawyer for the ACLU representing the girl, said a sponsor hadn't yet been found and that the process could take months. At least one potential sponsor has fallen through.

In a two-page order, Kavanaugh and Judge Karen Henderson, also appointed by Bush, joined to say that if a sponsor is found by Oct. 31 and the teen released, the government agrees she "will be lawfully able, if she chooses, to obtain an abortion on her own pursuant to the relevant state law." Judge Patricia Millett, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, didn't join the order. Millett would have allowed the girl to obtain an abortion as the court ruled earlier this week.

Jane's Due Process, a Texas group that works with pregnant minors seeking an abortion, says it and other local groups have raised money to pay for the procedure. An attorney appointed to represent the teen's interests has said she can transport the teen to and from appointments.

Under a new policy of the appeals court, live access to the audio of the hearing was provided on the court's website following a request.

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