A US District Court judge in Washington DC ruled that the Trump administration cannot block pregnant, undocumented immigrant teenagers in US custody from obtaining access to abortions, until a lawsuit on their behalf is decided.
The decision is a big victory for the American Civil Liberties Union, who since October have represented four pregnant, undocumented teenagers in a lawsuit against the Trump administration, arguing that they were blocked from obtaining abortions, and often brought to anti-abortion clinics to persuade them to change their minds.
“Obviously we are relieved,” Brigitte Amiri, the lead lawyer on the case, told BuzzFeed News minutes after the order was released. “This is a huge relief for the young women in ... custody who would otherwise be subjected to the Trump administration’s attempt to force them to bring to pregnancy to term.”
DC District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan granted the ACLU’s request to have the lawsuit considered a “class action,” meaning that the judge’s ruling will apply to every pregnant, undocumented minor seeking an abortion while in US custody, rather than on a case-by-case basis with each teen.
Chutkan then also granted the request to bar the federal government from interfering with several aspects of the affected minors’ health care, including access to a judicial bypass if needed, medical appointments related to pregnancy dating, non-directive options counseling, abortion counseling, an abortion, or other pregnancy-related care.
The Trump administration now could appeal the judge’s order, which would bring the case to the appeals court for a decision. Chutkan’s decision took effect immediately, so it is likely the first move, if DOJ wishes to keep fighting the case, would be to seek a stay of Chutkan’s ruling. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
In each of the cases pertaining to the four undocumented, pregnant teenagers, the Justice Department argued on behalf of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), saying that “declining to authorize abortions” does not impose an “undue burden” on the women’s abortion access, and is therefore not unconstitutional.
The ORR refused to transport the teenagers to abortion clinics, and the Justice Department argued that the teenagers could obtain the abortions either by finding a sponsor who would allow them to get an abortion, or by going back to their home countries.
Three of the teens were able to obtain abortions through emergency court orders, and one of them was determined to be over 18 during the case and was transferred into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, where she was transported to an abortion clinic.
The Trump official at the center of the lawsuit is Scott Lloyd, the head of ORR, which is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Trump administration issued a new interpretation of a HHS policy in March, requiring Lloyd to sign off on “any action that facilitates an abortion.”
In her opinion Friday, Chukta wrote that policy “nullifies” an undocumented minor’s “right to make her own reproductive choices.” She added that the ACLU had a strong likelihood of success in their case, as she believed ORR’s actions placed an “undue burden” on the teenagers seeking an abortion, which is a violation of the Constitution.
“ORR’s policy vests the power to decide the future of a [undocumented minor]’s pregnancy in one man: Director Lloyd,” Chukan wrote. Documents presented in the case, she continued, “reveal that the Director’s ultimate decision is substantially controlled by—if not entirely based on—his ideological opposition to abortion, and even an [undocumented minor] who becomes pregnant as a result of rape, with all its attendant physical and psychological harms, will not be allowed to decide whether she wishes to continue that pregnancy.”
Lloyd is a staunch abortion opponent and denied the requests of all four of the women who participated in the case, and according to documents presented to the court by the ACLU, likely more. Emails show that on more than one occasion Lloyd instructed immigration officials in charge of undocumented minors to take pregnant teenagers requesting abortions to anti-abortion clinics to obtain ultrasounds.
Next, the ACLU said it will begin requesting information from HHS pertaining to Lloyd and the rest of ORR’s handling of pregnant, undocumented teenagers in their custody, and will take depositions of Lloyd and his staff. Amiri told BuzzFeed News that this could take up to six months before the trial begins.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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