D.C. Court Grants Undocumented Minor Access to Legal Abortion

D.C. Court Grants Undocumented Minor Access to Legal Abortion
Brian Turner via Flickr creative commons
A federal court has approved an emergency restraining order against the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, granting a teenage immigrant in Texas the right to access an abortion. But in defending this case, lawyers have unveiled a new directive created under the Trump Administration's watch: No undocumented minors living in federal housing are allowed legal abortions.

The 17-year-old (dubbed "Jane Doe" in court documents) in this case had immigrated to the U.S. on her own, and had been transported to a federally-run shelter for undocumented minors in Brownsville after crossing the border. While living in this facility, she is legally granted access to "family planning services, including pregnancy tests and ... access to medical reproductive health services and emergency contraception." Her guardians, the U.S. government, didn't seem to agree.

"Defendants prohibited me from traveling to the health care center for the examination, counseling, and abortion," wrote Doe in a Oct. 5 testimony. "I feel like they are trying to coerce me to carry my pregnancy to term."

Doe added that someone from ORR had reached out to her mother in hopes of getting her to convince Doe out of an abortion.

After hearing Doe's case, lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, who called the move "shocking" and "straight from dystopian fiction," promptly requested an emergency injunction from a California federal court. While U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler ruled that yes, the government isn't allow to block undocumented immigrants in their custody from getting an abortion, she said the issue was outside of her jurisdiction, since it was tacked on to an unrelated case.

So the ACLU took it to a Washington, D.C. court, where U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered Doe's guardian to transport her "promptly and without delay" to the nearest abortion provider to have the procedure by Oct. 21 (at the latest).

“At last, our client will be able to get the care she needs without federal officials standing in the way,” said Brigitte Amiri, a head ACLU attorney on the case, in a press statement. “No one should be held hostage to the extreme anti-abortion views of a handful of government officials.”

Chutkan has yet to address the ACLU's second injunction request asking the court to prevent the feds from blocking abortion access for any other undocumented immigrant minors.

This case shines a light on what appears to be a new, constitutionally-flawed directive out of the ORR office: No federal shelters caring for unaccompanied immigrants can allow minors to get an abortion without “direction and approval from the Director of ORR."

And, as it turns out, the director is an outspoken opponent to abortion.
In emails obtained by the ACLU, ORR Director Scott Lloyd explicitly discouraged Jonathan White, deputy director for children's programs at the ORR, from letting Doe obtain judicial approval for an abortion, and instead told him to seek out "spiritual counseling" for her. He also recommended White send Doe to a non-medical "crisis pregnancy center" to get an ultrasound. These religious centers are known for guilting and persuading women out of getting an abortion.

Documents obtained by Politico further detail this new ORR rule. In an internal email to a staffer sent March 30, Lloyd explicitly wrote: “Grantees should not be supporting abortion services pre or post-release; only pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling.” This followed an earlier email where he told staff that girls claiming their pregnancy was the result of rape or incest were usually lying.

But this isn't just one guy pushing his anti-abortion ideals.

On Monday, the Administration for Children and Families (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) backed Lloyd's policy and applauded the way the ORR was taking care of Doe and her unborn child.

"Federal law is very clear on giving the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement the legal responsibility to decide what is in the best interests of a minor in the unaccompanied alien children program and, in this case, her unborn baby," the statement reads. "We cannot cede our responsibility to care for minors and their babies by releasing them to ideological advocacy groups."

In this case, however, it appears the "ideological advocacy group" in question is a doctor's office that provides a legal abortion — a health care procedure granted to all Americans and immigrants within federal care.

In her ruling, California Judge Beeler made it clear: "The government’s legitimate interest cannot justify actively preventing a woman from getting an abortion. The government may not want to facilitate abortion — but it cannot block it."

Update 6:45 p.m.:

The Administration for Children and Families has issued a new statement in response to the D.C. ruling.

“The United States District Court made a troubling ruling that exceeds the U.S. Constitution and sets a dangerous precedent by opening our borders to any illegal children seeking taxpayer-supported, elective abortions," the statement reads. "We will consider our next steps to ensure our country does not become an open sanctuary for taxpayer-supported abortions by minors crossing the border illegally.”


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