Undocumented teenagers seeking abortion will be allowed to obtain them until a lawsuit filed on their behalf is decided, a U.S. district court judge ruled late Friday night — dealing a blow to the Trump administration.
The ruling marks a victory for the ACLU, which has battled with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) over the issue for months.
D.C. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan approved a request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to bring a class action lawsuit on behalf of four undocumented teenagers seeking abortions — meaning that all minors seeking abortions while in U.S. custody must be granted them.
Previously, the issue was decided on a case by case basis, leaving the teenagers vulnerable to disruptive tactics, including efforts to redirect them to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and block them from undergoing the procedure.
“Obviously we are relieved,” lead ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri told BuzzFeed shortly after the decision was announced. “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.”
According to U.S. government filings, there are at least 420 pregnant unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody. Of those, at least 18 have requested abortions.
The ruling is the latest turn of events in a saga that has pitted advocates for both undocumented immigrants and abortion rights against the White House.
In March, the Trump administration declared that ORR Director Scott Lloyd, who once worked with the anti-abortion Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization, would have final say on “any action that facilitates an abortion.”
Each of the four undocumented teenagers in U.S. custody represented by the ACLU were ultimately granted the procedure, but only after intensive legal efforts and strident opposition from Trump administration officials like Lloyd.
Lloyd has stated that he believes abortion is the “destruction of life.” Documents obtained by the ACLU in court filings show that Lloyd denied at least seven abortion requests between March and late December 2017. As ORR director, Lloyd has argued that undocumented teenagers have no constitutional right to abortion, redirecting those seeking the procedure to right-wing crisis pregnancy centers that counsel against abortion. Lloyd told one teenager, whose pregnancy was the result of rape, that abortion and sexual assault are similar forms of “violence.”
A January report from Vice revealed that Lloyd also floated the idea of attempting to “reverse” an abortion for one teenager, using a scientifically unproven and controversial procedure involving the hormone progesterone. (There is no indication that the teenager ever took progesterone, and her abortion was ultimately successful despite efforts to delay the procedure.)
Lloyd’s tactics haven’t helped the government’s case in court. In her 28-page opinion, Chutkan wrote that requiring Lloyd’s oversight “nullifies…[a teenager’s] right to make her own reproductive choices,” placing an “undue burden” on the minors.
The Justice Department has yet to comment on Chutkan’s decision. The ACLU has said it could be up to six months before the organization’s lawsuit against the government goes to trial.