The Trump administration can’t stop pregnant migrant teens in its custody from getting abortions, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The ruling is a major setback for the government, which had argued it wasn't required to facilitate abortions for teens held by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which cares for migrant minors who enter the United States without authorization or parents. Four teens sued the administration after they were effectively blocked from getting the procedure.
“We are unanimous in rejecting the government’s position that its denial of abortion access can be squared with Supreme Court precedent,” the panel of judges wrote, adding, “A person has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy before fetal viability, and the government cannot unduly burden her decision.”
The case dates back to late 2017, when a 17-year-old identified in court papers as Jane Doe sued the Trump administration over accusations that the Office of Refugee Resettlement had refused to let her get an abortion. The agency was then headed by Scott Lloyd, a longtime anti-abortion advocate, who said he had to personally sign off on any request for an abortion.
After three more teenagers joined Doe’s lawsuit, a federal judge issued a court order in March 2018 that blocked the Trump administration and its officials from interfering in minors’ access to the procedure.
In Friday’s ruling, the D.C. Circuit Court judges wrote that Lloyd’s policy functions as a “blanket ban.” They specifically pointed to the case of one teen represented in the lawsuit, who became pregnant after being raped. Lloyd denied her request for an abortion.
“She should have been forced to choose between (i) carrying her unwanted pregnancy to term even though it resulted from rape, and (ii) returning to her country of origin, a place where, according to the government’s own determination in granting her asylum, she faced a well-founded fear of persecution,” the judges wrote.
“The Trump administration’s cruel policy of blocking young immigrant women in federal custody from accessing abortion was a blatant abuse of power,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. The ACLU represented the four teens in their lawsuit. “We are relieved that today’s ruling continues to prevent the policy from taking effect while the case proceeds, and allows the case to proceed as a class action as we continue this fight.”
Cover: Senior adviser for the Department of Health and Human Services Scott Lloyd testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on the Trump administration's separation policy involving migrant families on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)