Appeals court rules against Trump admin policy on abortions for undocumented teens

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled against the Trump administration’s policy of blocking undocumented pregnant teenagers in federal custody from obtaining abortions.

In the opinion, the judges wrote that they “are unanimous in rejecting the government’s position that its denial of abortion access can be squared with Supreme Court precedent.”

The Trump administration in 2017 effectively adopted a policy that stopped pregnant teenagers in the country illegally from seeking abortions, even during the earlier months of their pregnancies.

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The judges noted in the opinion issued Friday that the policy only applies to minors in federal custody, and that undocumented immigrants 18 years or older in federal custody are allowed to obtain abortions. They also highlighted the policy's lack of exemptions, including one for rape.

The court was divided in the opinion two to three: Judge Sri Srinivasan and Robert Wilkins, both Obama appointees, ruled against the Trump administration. Senior Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman, a Reagan appointee, filed a dissenting opinion.

The cases revolved around a policy implemented at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, under then-director Scott Lloyd. He has since left the administration.

The Trump administration argued that the teenagers could have sought to be deported voluntarily in order to obtain an abortion, and that an unaccompanied pregnant minor could be released to a sponsor and then have the procedure.

But the judges rejected that argument, saying that allowing the teenagers to have abortions is not the same as facilitating an abortion, as the administration claimed.

"In the context of that interest, the government can no more deny her abortion access based on the abstract possibility of sponsorship than it can do so based on the abstract availability of voluntary departure," the majority opinion reads.

However, the judges declined to rule on a part of an injunction issued by a lower court that blocked ORR from sharing information about the teenagers' pregnancies or abortions. They sent that part of a case back down to district court for further review "because we lack an adequate understanding of the content of the disclosure policies we would be charged with reviewing."

Silberman wrote in his dissent that because there may be undocumented pregnant minors in federal custody who want to carry their pregnancies to term, he does not think the lawsuit should move forward.

"No one questions any woman’s legal right to carry a fetus to birth; the only constitutional issue is whether there is a constitutional right to have an abortion under some circumstances. So it is misleading for Appellees to speak of a constitutional right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to birth. No one, least of all the Government, threatens such a 'choice,'" the judge wrote.

Silberman also argued that the government's search for people to sponsor detained pregnant teenagers who are seeking abortions is enough to show that the policy doesn't need to be blocked.

"And it is clear that the Government has invoked the benefits of sponsorship for the pregnant minors who are 'considering and pursuing such a personal and sensitive decision as abortion,'" Silberman wrote in his dissent.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which was behind the legal challenge, celebrated the ruling as a win for abortion rights.

“The Trump administration’s cruel policy of blocking young immigrant women in federal custody from accessing abortion was a blatant abuse of power,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement.

“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.”

Updated 3:57 p.m.