On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the Trump administration to let an unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant minor obtain an abortion. The minor, referred to in court filings as Jane Doe, arrived in the United States without her parents and is currently being held at a federally funded shelter in Texas. Although she received judicial approval to terminate her pregnancy, her shelter refused to let her travel to an abortion clinic at the direction of the Trump administration. Chutkan issued a temporary restraining order compelling Doe’s shelter to let her receive state-mandated counseling, then obtain the abortion “promptly and without delay.” Because federal officials have delayed the procedure, Doe is 15 weeks pregnant; Texas outlaws abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Doe is one of thousands of undocumented minors who entered the United States without their parents. Many of these children and teenagers are transported to federally funded shelters overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a wing of the Department of Health and Human Services. In March, the ORR announced that these shelters would be barred from taking “any action that facilitates” abortion for unaccompanied minors—including “scheduling appointments, transportation, or other arrangement”—without “direction and approval” from Scott Lloyd, the agency’s director and a Trump appointee.*
Lloyd, an anti-abortion writer and activist, has consistently declined to provide approval for minors who wish to terminate their pregnancies. Instead, he has directed shelters to take these minors to “crisis pregnancy centers” to be “counseled” out of their decisions. In at least one instance, Lloyd personally called a pregnant minor to talk her out of receiving an abortion. If, after these interventions, a minor still wants to terminate her pregnancy, shelters simply refuse to let them go to their appointments.
Unaccompanied minors held in Texas and other conservative states face an extra hurdle: Because they cannot obtain parental consent, they must receive judicial approval to terminate their pregnancies. Jane Doe actually got this approval, but her shelter, at the direction of ORR, refused to let her attend the pre-abortion counseling required by law. The ACLU sued on behalf of Doe and all others similarly situated, which could be dozens or even hundreds of women. Texas filed an amicus brief arguing that undocumented women have no constitutional right to access abortion. (Notably, it was co-authored by Jeff Mateer, the state’s first assistant attorney general—and a Trump judicial nominee.) The Department of Justice also adopted this bizarre position in court and refused to state whether undocumented immigrants have any constitutional rights while residing in the United States. (They do.)
Chutkan’s order granting Jane Doe access to abortion does not fully resolve this issue. The ACLU asked for a broader decision barring ORR from interfering with other unaccompanied immigrant minors’ abortion rights; having resolved Doe’s urgent request, Chutkan will likely issue that injunction in the coming days. Reps. Beto O’Rourke and Zoe Lofgren have also sent a letter to HHS demanding that it explain its anti-abortion policies and actions. O’Rourke has criticized the administration for imposing its “ideological agenda on girls and deny[ing] them their constitutionally protected rights to healthcare.”
On Wednesday afternoon, I asked O’Rourke what he made of Chutkin’s decision.
“Today’s ruling is justice for Jane,” he told me. “But I will continue demanding answers from HHS and ORR so they never again withhold access to critical medical care or force migrant girls to carry pregnancies against their will.”
*Correction, Oct. 18, 2017: This post originally misquoted the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s announcement regarding abortion. ORR barred “any action that facilitates” abortion, not “facilities.”