Until now, pregnant and undocumented teenagers in government custody have been subject to a near blanket-ban on abortion. But a new federal court ruling is now protecting the reproductive rights of young immigrant women.
As the wave of reproductive rollbacks continues to sweep across the U.S, the diminishing state of abortion services has made for grim reading. From the “fetal heartbeat” bills in Georgia and Ohio, to the punishing ban in Alabama outlawing the procedure in virtually all cases, every week seems to bring news of yet another restriction on a woman’s right to choose.
Amidst the bitter fight for bodily autonomy, however, there are glimmers of hope. Pro-choice politicians in New York, Virginia and Illinois have introduced legislation protecting abortion services, while Planned Parenthood, which recently announced a dedicated Women’s Health Forum for 2020 Democratic candidates, remains the most prominent organisation working to defend access to reproductive healthcare. And despite the spate of anti-choice legislation, abortion is still legal in all 50 states in America, and Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case which protects a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, is still intact.
Now, a U.S federal appeals court has ruled against a Trump administration policy preventing undocumented, unaccompanied teenagers in government custody from accessing abortion services.
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Thanks to the intervention of the American Civil Liberties Union, the 2017 policy, which prohibited government shelters from providing abortion services to immigrant children, was rejected by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, who also upheld an existing order put in place in 2018 blocking the policy.
“The Supreme Court ‘has determined and then redetermined that the Constitution offers basic protection to the woman’s right to choose,’” the judges wrote. “And we are not free to dilute a constitutional right recognised by controlling Supreme Court precedent — a right the government affirmatively assumes unaccompanied minors here have — so that others will be dissuaded from seeking a better life in this country.”
“We are unanimous in rejecting the government’s position that its denial of abortion access can be squared with Supreme Court precedent,” the 81-page opinion concludes.
The policy first began in 2017, when a pregnant teenager in government custody was prevented from obtaining an abortion by then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh, despite the fact that she had already obtained judicial bypass pursuant to state law. Soon after, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the decision, allowing the teenager to access an abortion.
The ACLU brought the case to court on behalf on several pregnant teenagers in federal custody who were seeking abortions, calling the policy a “blatant abuse of power.” As a result of the ruling, those minors, who would otherwise have been forced to carry unwanted pregnancies, were able to obtain their abortions.
“The Trump administration’s cruel policy of blocking young immigrant women in federal custody from accessing abortion was a blatant abuse of power,” said ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri, who represented the teenagers, in a statement after the ruling.
“We are relieved that today’s ruling continues to prevent the policy from taking effect while the case proceeds, and allows the case to proceed as a class action as we continue this fight.”
It’s worth nothing that federal judges have ruled against the U.S government at least 63 times since Trump took office, according to the Washington Post, while a running tally from the Institute for Policy Integrity shows that more than 90% of the administration’s deregulatory efforts have been blocked in court, on matters ranging from the environment to immigration.
Meanwhile the ACLU, which has challenged the Trump administration on everything from the travel ban against Muslims, to the ban on transgender people from joining the U.S. military, vowed to continue its vital work to ensure immigrant minors have access to reproductive healthcare in the future.
“We will continue fighting to make sure that the Trump administration is permanently blocked from obstructing young immigrant minors’ access to crucial health care and the constitutional right to abortion.”