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A pair of ACLU lawsuits has revealed that Trump administration officials are forcing pregnant undocumented minors in federal shelters to carry their pregnancies to term and denying their requests to visit abortion providers. (Photo: Raúl Hernández González/Flickr/cc)

As Trump Denies 17-Year-Old Abortion Access, Court Battle Exposes Broader Problem

As undocumented teen is held "hostage" by government officials, ACLU challenge exposes cruelty of administration's anti-choice policies

Jessica Corbett

The Trump administration's refugee office is preventing an undocumented 17-year-old from receiving a court-approved abortion, and according to documents and reports that have surfaced since the ACLU filed two lawsuits on the teen's behalf, she's not the first. "

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has effectively banned abortions for undocumented pregnant minors who enter the U.S. alone and are detained in federal immigration shelters by requiring "shelters to get its approval before releasing girls for abortion-related services―approval that officials have refused to grant," Elise Foley explains for the Huffington Post.

Foley describes how the Trump administration's policy is a departure from past practices:

Under the Obama administration, the ORR director or a designee had to sign off on abortions in instances that would require government funding, which is available only to victims of rape and incest, or women whose lives are at risk due to their pregnancy. ORR funds may be used for abortion only in those instances, according to a 2008 memo laying out policy for medical care for minors in ORR custody.

But things have changed under President Donald Trump, and more specifically under ORR Director Scott Lloyd, who has worked with anti-abortion groups and wrote a paper arguing against access to contraceptives. The Department of Health and Human Services more broadly has indicated a potential anti-abortion stance, including by writing that life begins "at conception" in its recently-released for the agency.

"The government refused multiple times to tell HuffPost whether it is using the same policies on victims of rape and incest," Foley notes, "but critics of the new tactics say there is little reason to think they wouldn't―and that it could further victimize girls who already faced violence in their native countries or on their way to the United States."

"Jane Doe is a brave and persistent young woman who has already been forced by the Trump administration to delay her abortion for weeks. The government is holding her hostage so that she will be forced to carry to term against her will."
—Brigitte Amiri, ACLU attorny

The ACLU estimates there are hundreds of pregnant teenagers who illegally enter the U.S. each year and end up in federal shelters, where they are prevented from visiting abortion providers.

Instead, as in the case of the 17-year-old "Jane Doe"—who is being held at a shelter in Texas—they are often taken to religiously-affiliated "crisis pregnancy centers," where they are given sonograms and pressured to carry their pregnancies to term. Jane Doe was scheduled to receive an abortion Sept. 28, but officials have refused to allow her to to visit the doctor who agreed to perform the abortion.

"Jane Doe is a brave and persistent young woman who has already been forced by the Trump administration to delay her abortion for weeks," said ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri. "The government is holding her hostage so that she will be forced to carry to term against her will."

The ACLU added the teen to an existing lawsuit earlier this month, but U.S. Magistrate Laurel Beeler said that although the ban is likely illegal, she could neither force the government to allow Jane Doe to visit an abortion provider nor expand the first lawsuit to review the ban's constitutionality. The ACLU filed another suit in Washington, D.C. on Friday, and is asking the court to strike down the Trump administration's abortion ban for undocumented minors.

"There is a pattern of unconstitutional overreach of power in a minor's abortion decision," Amiri told Politico, which also reported that "lawyers who work with the teens say the policy appears to have been disseminated informally through email, rather than being formally codified in the agency's policy guide."

In emails from March obtained by Politico, Lloyd instructed federally funded shelters to "provide immediate and continuing information" to the agency regarding abortion requests while also noting that shelters could not authorize the procedure and punitive action would be taken against any that did. "Grantees should not be supporting abortion services pre or post-release; only pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling," he wrote in late March.

The attorneys also claimed "Lloyd has personally visited and called pregnant girls in shelters, directed them to a list of approved crisis pregnancy centers, instructed staff to block minors from meeting with attorneys, and told shelter operators to call a minor's parents even if she receives permission to go to a judge to obtain authorization for an abortion without their consent."

While Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as well as the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, have released statements asserting that undocumented minors have no constitutional right to elective abortions, Amiri said: "federal officials have no right to prevent this young woman from getting the care she needs," and the ACLU has filed the second suit "in the hope that we can put an end to these unconscionable delays."

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