Washington– A federal judge has issued a sweeping order temporarily preventing the US government from blocking access to abortion services for undocumented, pregnant teens in immigration custody.
Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of US District Court on late Friday barred the government from “interfering with or obstructing” pregnant minors’ access to medical appointments, counselling, abortion procedures or other care”, writing that it infringed on their constitutional rights, the Washington Post reported.
“The administration cannot strip unaccompanied immigrant minor children of their right to make their own reproductive choices,” Chutkan wrote in the decision.
The order came in a case brought last year on behalf of a Central American girl in a government-funded shelter that set off a national debate over the constitutional rights of such undocumented teens to terminate their pregnancies.
The judge allowed the case to proceed as a class action on behalf of many other teens who crossed the border illegally and while in federal custody may want to seek abortion services.
In filings, the US government acknowledged there were at least 420 pregnant unaccompanied minors in custody in 2017, including 18 who requested abortions.
The Trump administration had refused to “facilitate” such procedures for pregnant teenagers travelling alone on the grounds that they had the option to voluntarily return to their home countries or to find private sponsors in the US to assist them in obtaining procedures.
The policy position marked a shift from that of the Obama administration, whose Office of Refugee Resettlement did not block immigrants in US custody from having abortions at their own expense, and paid for services for teens in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the woman’s life.
It was unclear late Friday whether the Trump administration would appeal the ruling. A Justice Department spokesman did not comment on the move, while the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — representing the teens — expressed relief at the court action.
“The Trump administration’s cruel policy of blocking young immigrant women in federal custody from accessing abortion is a blatant abuse of power,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.
“We are relieved that the court issued an order preventing the administration from continuing this practice,” she said.