A federal judge has moved to temporarily block the Trump administration from preventing unaccompanied, pregnant immigrant teens from obtaining an abortion while in federal custody. In a ruling issued late Friday, the judge accused Trump administration officials of violating immigrant teens' constitutional rights. The ruling comes as part of class action lawsuit brought against the administration by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of an unidentified pregnant immigrant teen — and other young women like her — who fought to get an abortion last year.
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan issued a preliminary injunction to temporarily bar officials at the Department of Health and Human Services — including Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Director Scott Lloyd— from obstructing unaccompanied immigrant teens' access to abortion services while they're in federal custody.
"The court concludes that ORR's policies and practices infringe on female UC's constitutional rights by effectively prohibiting them from 'making the ultimate decision' on whether or not to continue their pregnancy prior to viability — a quintessential undue burden," Chutkan wrote in her 28-page opinion. UC is an abbreviation that refers to unaccompanied children. Chutkan also criticized the ORR's recent reversal of an Obama-era policy that had enabled unaccompanied minors in federal custody to obtain abortions at their own expense or paid for the procedure in cases of rape, incest, or threats to the woman's life.
"The record reveals that ORR effectively retains an absolute veto over the reproductive decision of any young woman in its custody, a veto that is exercised routinely to bar UCs from obtaining abortions, despite the fact that no public funds are expended to procure the procedures and notwithstanding the UC's own wishes or intentions," Chutkan wrote. "In other words, ORR's absolute veto nullifies a UC's right to make her own reproductive choices, including the decision of whether to continue or terminate her pregnancy."
Chutkan's ruling was welcome news to the ACLU, which has been fighting to protect undocumented immigrant women's reproductive rights. "The Trump administration's cruel policy of blocking young immigrant women in federal custody from accessing abortion is a blatant abuse of power," the Washington Post reported Brigitte Amiri, the deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement Friday. "With today's rulings, we are one step closer to ending this extreme policy once and for all and securing justice for all of these young women."
The Administration for Children and Families, which functions as a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has previously said pregnant undocumented minors are free to obtain abortion services once they return to their home country. "The minors in this case — who entered the country illegally — have the option to voluntarily depart to their home country or find a suitable sponsor," the New York Times reported the agency said in a statement issued in December. "If they choose not to exercise these options, HHS does not believe we are required to facilitate the abortion."
In November, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to throw out the ruling of a lower court, which had allowed an undocumented pregnant teenage immigrant to obtain an abortion following a bitter legal battle. In their request, the Department of Justice argued that because the teen had managed to obtain an abortion before they could file an appeal the ruling should be thrown out so as to not create legal precedent for women in similar situations.
However, along with issuing a preliminary injunction, Chutkan also ruled the case could proceed as a class action lawsuit. There are currently four class representatives named in the case, according to court filings. All of them are young women ORR attempted to prevent from obtaining an abortion.