A federal judge has ordered the government to inform all illegal immigrant children in federal custody that they have an unfettered right to an abortion in the U.S.
Notices, in English and Spanish, must be passed out “to all unaccompanied minors” regardless of whether they are pregnant — or even girls. The order kicks in “immediately,” U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who has been overseeing a long-running dispute over illegal immigrants’ abortion rights, wrote in her Friday ruling.
Notices are also to be posted at the dorms where the Unaccompanied Alien Children are staying, and any girl who discovers she’s pregnant must again be informed of her rights to an abortion here in the U.S. That notice must be given in her “primary spoken language,” which could go well beyond English or Spanish.
Two weeks ago Judge Chutkan certified a class action ordering Health and Human Services, the government agency that takes custody of the UAC, to facilitate abortion access for any illegal immigrant who wants to terminate her pregnancy.
The new notices and alerts carry out that decision.
The notices read: “If you are pregnant, you have the right to decide whether to have the baby or to have an abortion. No one who works for the government or the shelter can force your decision either way. No one who works for the government or the shelter can tell anyone about your pregnancy or decision to have an abortion if you don’t want them to do so.”
The notices also give the phone number and email address of a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union and urge pregnant girls to call it if they think they are being pressured.
Trump administration lawyers had already given notice they would appeal the class certification.
The Justice Department argues that requiring the government to facilitate abortions for illegal immigrants could actually entice more girls to make the dangerous trip.
Abortion is illegal or more heavily restricted in many Latin American countries, and pro-life advocates have warned the U.S. could become an abortion “sanctuary” for teens seeking to get around their home country’s laws.
Illegal immigrant children caught traveling without parents are given special treatment in the U.S. Immigration authorities must quickly process and release them to HHS, which holds them in dorms run by government contractors while trying to find sponsors to take them to homes here in the U.S.
Government lawyers argue that while in U.S. custody, the government has a duty to the health of both the girl and her fetus. Federal law also prohibits spending money to facilitate an abortion.
The government says girls who want an abortion can either accept speedy deportation or else work to get a sponsor in the U.S. Once with the sponsor, the girl is free to choose an abortion or any other legal course.
But Judge Chutkan ruled those weren’t choices, saying it can often take weeks to find a sponsor. She also said she wouldn’t stomach sending pregnant teens back to countries where abortion was illegal.