Reproductive Rights

D.C. Appeals Court Blocks Policy that Prevents Undocumented Minors from Seeking Abortions

Today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a Trump administration policy barring undocumented minors held in federal custody from obtaining an abortion. In their opinion, the Circuit Court judges wrote that “a person has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy” and “the government accepts the applicability of that settled framework to unaccompanied alien children in its custody.”

Last year, the district court issued a preliminary injunction, preventing the Trump administration from hindering undocumented teenagers’ abilities to get an abortion or seek counseling. Today’s ruling provides an even stronger protection for young migrants against those who wish to limit their access to abortion.

The case involved multiple plaintiffs who attempted to obtain abortions while in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). One of the young female plaintiffs, identified as Jane Doe, was raped in her country of origin when she was just 17 years old. She did not realize that she was pregnant until she arrived in the United States at a Texas ORR facility. While in government custody, she asked multiple times for an abortion, but was repeatedly denied. Another young woman involved was 17 when she was raped and discovered she was pregnant. Despite her need for an abortion procedure, she was told she could not receive one due to the government’s policy. The two young women were eventually able to receive an abortion only after the court granted both of them a temporary restraining order over the government’s opposition.

The Trump administration’s 2017 policy acted as a complete ban on abortion for any undocumented person under the age of 18 being held in custody. The policy prevented undocumented minors from receiving an abortion, regardless of laws in the state where the minor was being held. The policy also notably did not contain exceptions for rape or incest.

The issue of abortion access for migrant youth has arisen in conjunction with rising complaints of sexual abuse from thousands of migrants held in youth detention centers. These disturbing reports are just one of the many reasons why ensuring that young undocumented people have access to safe abortions is so vital.


Media Resources: The Hill 6/14/18, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 6/14/19, Feminist Newswire 2/19/19

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