A federal court in Washington issued an order to the Trump administration on Friday: stop preventing detained pregnant immigrant teens from accessing abortions. According to NBC, the case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union after the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was accused of preventing access to abortion counseling or care by pregnant minors who had crossed the border illegally.
Lawyers for the DHHS – which is in charge of, among other things, sheltering minors who illegally cross the border without a guardian – confirmed the practice, stating that the Department has a policy of “refusing to facilitate” abortions. The director who oversees shelter for those minors added that he does not believe that teens in the agency’s care have a constitutional right to abortions.
In addition to the ruling, the judge overseeing the case, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, also allowed it to go forward as a class action suit. ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri said in a statement that they had “been able to secure justice for these young pregnant women in government custody,” calling the policy “government coercion and obstruction.”
The government can appeal the decision, but it represents a landmark ruling on a policy that the Trump administration and the ACLU have been fighting over for months. Last year, the ACLU brought another suit on behalf of a teen in custody in Texas, who learned that she was pregnant after being taken to a federal facility. That teen was given a state court order granting her permission to have an abortion, but federal officials refused to transport or temporarily release her to receive care. As a result of the ACLU’s suit, she was able to get her abortion in October, but the Trump administration has since accused the ACLU of misleading the government, which they deny.
In the time since, the ACLU has brought similar suits on behalf of other pregnant immigrant teens in federal custody, and is unaware of any others currently seeking an abortion. But the new court ruling, unless successfully appealed, covers any teens now in custody or who are taken into custody while the case moves forward.
Judge Chutkan said in her ruling that, while the federal government (in the person of DHHS director Scott Lloyd, who has written about his own opposition to abortion,) and his office are certainly within their rights to take interest in fetal health, and even to prefer one way of dealing with a pregnancy over another, the federal government can’t maintain a policy which strips minors “of their right to make their own reproductive choices.”
The Trump administration has not indicated whether they intend to appeal the decision.