A federal judge ordered the Trump administration late Friday to grant pregnant illegal immigrant girls in U.S. custody unfettered access to abortions, ruling they have a constitutional right to the procedure.
Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, an Obama-era appointee to U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., who has been a thorn in the side of the Trump administration in several major cases, said the government has been putting too many hurdles in the path of the teen girls.
The government’s backers had warned of the dangers of abortion tourism, predicting teen illegal immigrants would come to the U.S. to take advantage of more relaxed abortion laws here than in their home countries.
But the judge rejected that warning and the government’s solution of suggesting the girls be deported to their home countries, where they would be free to take whatever steps they wanted.
“This court will not sanction any policy or practice that forces vulnerable young women to make such a choice,” Judge Chutkan said, referring to the minor girls in question.
She said in at least one case a girl seeking an abortion came from a country where it would have been illegal, and she would not condemn the girl to have to go back there to avoid custody in the U.S.
She granted class-action status to all pregnant illegal immigrant teens who came to the U.S. as unaccompanied alien children (UAC) and imposed a nationwide policy that the government make them aware they can have abortions, and requiring facilitation by government officials.
Her ruling seemed destined to further deepen an already fraught debate over the rights illegal immigrants are able to claim in the U.S.
Judge Chutkan previously had cleared the way in several instances for UAC girls to have abortions, but Friday evening’s ruling — at the beginning of the Passover and during Good Friday — goes further, imposing a new policy the government must follow in all future cases.
It’s unclear how many cases there actually are.
There were 38 pregnant UAC as of early March, and more nearly 2,000 went through U.S. custody between 2014 and 2016. But the government said few of them are actually seeking abortions.
Judge Chutkan said that didn’t matter. She said the total number of pregnancies was the key factor in claiming the right to class-action status.
An earlier ruling granting specific illegal immigrants abortion access was initially overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. But the full D.C. circuit then stepped in and overturned the panel.
The Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court to hear that earlier ruling. The justices have yet to say whether they would.
The illegal immigrants are part of the surge of people who began to flow into the U.S. from Central America after the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty. At first a stream, the numbers turned into a flood in 2014, dropped in 2015, then have gone through ups and downs since.
The surge consisted of both children traveling without their parents — the UAC — and families traveling together, usually women and their children.
Through the first five months of fiscal year 2018 some 21,000 UAC have been nabbed attempting to enter the U.S. across the Mexican border without permission.
Once caught, the UAC are supposed to be processed by Homeland Security and quickly released to the Health and Human Services Department. HHS then tries to place them with relatives or sponsors — often here illegally themselves — or places them in government-contracted shelters.
It is girls in those shelters who are the focus of the abortion fight. The Trump administration argues that as long as they are in custody, the government has an interest in protecting them and their fetus, and has discouraged abortions.
The Trump administration also argues that transporting the girls to get an abortion means spending taxpayer money to facilitate the procedure — something that they have argued is against the law, except in extreme cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother’s life.