Lawyers for a fourth pregnant immigrant teen in federal custody asked a judge in Washington on Thursday to quickly intervene to allow the teen to terminate her pregnancy.
The request from the American Civil Liberties Union is part of an ongoing challenge to the Trump administration’s policy of blocking or preventing access to abortion services for pregnant teens held in government-funded shelters after crossing the border illegally.
Since March, the administration has adopted a policy of refusing to “facilitate” abortions for unaccompanied minors. Court documents unsealed last month show the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement denied access to abortion services for a 17-year-old who said she had been raped and threatened to harm herself if she could not end her pregnancy.
The office’s director, E. Scott Lloyd, denied the teen’s request over the recommendation of a senior staff member who said the office should assist the teen in getting an abortion, according to the filing.
In explaining his decision, Lloyd said in a December memo that the government office “cannot be a place of refuge while we are at the same time a place of violence. We have to choose, and we ought to choose [to] protect life rather than to destroy it.”
ACLU attorneys say the administration’s policy affects hundreds of teenagers in custody and is an unconstitutional curb on abortion rights. There were 420 pregnant girls in custody during fiscal 2017, according to court records.
Under the Obama administration, the government did not pay for abortions for teens in custody except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the woman’s life. Officials did not block immigrants in U.S. custody from obtaining abortions at their own expense.
The latest court filing says the fourth teen, identified only as Jane Moe, requested an abortion about two weeks ago but has not been allowed to end her pregnancy and instead was required to visit an antiabortion crisis pregnancy center. The filing does not identify the teen’s home country or the state in which she is being held.
“Without this court’s immediate intervention, defendants will continue to deny Ms. Moe the ability to access abortion, and ultimately will force her to carry to term against her will,” according to the ACLU’s filing.
The teen’s attorneys say she is being asked to disclose her pregnancy to her parents and “fears retaliation because she has requested an abortion, and she does not want her family or others to know.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said in a statement Thursday that the teen has “the option to voluntarily depart to her home country or find a suitable sponsor.”
“If she chooses not to exercise these options, HHS does not believe we are required to facilitate Jane Moe’s abortion, out of concern and responsibility for the mother’s best interests,” the statement said.
U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan in Washington has previously ordered the administration to allow access to abortion services for the other teens.
In the case of the first teenager in October, the government missed the time window for trying to get an order from the Supreme Court to stop the abortion. But the administration took the unusual step of asking the high court to consider disciplinary action against the girl’s lawyers for what it says were misleading statements about the timing of the procedure. That request is still pending before the Supreme Court.