POLITICS
12/19/2017 12:57 am ET

2 Teen Immigrants In Custody Can Obtain Abortions, Federal Judge Orders

But the Justice Department immediately moves to appeal the case of one 17-year-old.

A judge has ordered federal officials to allow two teenage immigrants in federal custody to have abortions.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in the District of Columbia issued a temporary restraining order that bars officials from preventing the teens from leaving the shelters where they’re being held.

Neither the identities of the girls nor of the separate shelters where they’re living were revealed. The teens are referred to as Jane Roe and Jane Poe. They’re both 17 years old.

Officials are “required to transport” the teens or allow them “to be transported, promptly and without delay … to an abortion provider, in order to obtain any pregnancy or abortion-related medical care,” Chutkan ruled. ​​​​​She said the girls’ “constitutional right to decide whether to carry their pregnancies to term” needs to be preserved.

One of the teenagers is 10 weeks pregnant; the other is 22 weeks pregnant. Justice Department officials said they would allow the teen further along in her pregnancy to obtain an abortion. But they quickly filed a notice of appeal to both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of the teen who is 10 weeks pregnant, in part because a sponsor has been identified for “Ms. Roe.” If the sponsor is approved, the government “would release Ms. Roe to the sponsor, mooting her claim to injunctive relief,” lawyers argued. They also argued that the “government may make decisions favoring life over abortion; it is not obligated to facilitate Ms. Roe’s procedure.”

Keeping the teens in the shelters is part of a Trump administration policy not to allow any females in detention to obtain an abortion, which the American Civil Liberties Union argued violated their constitutional rights.

Before President Donald Trump took office, unaccompanied immigrants in detention could obtain an abortion if they paid for it with private funds. Detained immigrants must still pay for abortions with private funds, but new Trump administration rules bar federally funded shelters from taking “any action that facilitates” abortion — unless written approval is given by the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The current director, E. Scott Lloyd, a staunch Catholic, opposes abortion rights. He has personally contacted young women “to convince them to carry their pregnancies to term,” according to the ACLU.

Last week, when the ACLU took on the case, officials of the federal Department of Health and Human Services said in an email to The New York Times that the girls were free to leave the country or to find sponsorship to stay in the country legally and leave the shelters. Otherwise, HHS “does not believe we are required to facilitate the abortion,” the email said.

ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri accused the administration of a “cruel and dystopian crusade to block abortion access for some of the most marginalized people in our country.” She said in a statement that the ACLU is “prepared to keep fighting for as long as we need to.”

The ACLU and the Trump administration last went head-to-head in October over a 17-year-old immigrant who was 11 weeks pregnant and had been blocked from obtaining an abortion. The ACLU won a stay from Chutkan, whose ruling was upheld on appeal. The teen quickly obtained an abortion before the Justice Department could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

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