Federal Policy Prohibiting Unaccompanied Minors From Getting Abortions Is Back In Court

Sep 26, 2018

A federal appeals court will hear oral arguments in a case today challenging a Trump administration policy prohibiting young women in federal custody from getting abortions.

Attorneys say the policy, which applies to minors who enter the U.S. unaccompanied and without documentation, is unconstitutional.

“The government in this case is literally holding unaccompanied immigrant minors hostage, preventing them from leaving the facility, from accessing an abortion,” says Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “And that is a ban on abortion.”

The policy went into effect somewhat secretly in March of last year. Federal officials who run the shelters where many of these young women stay were directed not to allow them to get abortions without expressed approval from Scott Lloyd, the director of the unaccompanied minor program within the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Around the time the policy was put in place, a young woman in a Texas shelter told attorneys she was being denied access to a legal abortion.

Amiri and other attorneys eventually filed a class-action lawsuit asking a federal court to block the policy. Earlier this year, the court temporarily halted the policy, and it hasn’t been in effect since March.

The federal government appealed the ruling and will be defending the policy in court today. It argues these young women could get an abortion if they voluntarily left the country.

Amiri says the policy affects vulnerable young women who don’t have a lot of support or resources – and likely don’t know they have the right to an abortion in the U.S. She says the federal government should make sure these young women in particular have access to reproductive health care.

“The rate of sexual assault coming across the border is incredibly high,” she says.

Amiri says it's estimated that between 60 and 80 percent of women and girls who make the journey to the U.S. are sexually assaulted coming across the border.

“So, it’s incredibly important that our government protect their rights and ensure that they have access to proper medical care,” she says.