Biden administration takes steps to protect abortions for migrant girls in US custody

The Biden administration is instructing asylum officials across the US to ensure pregnant migrant girls in federal custody have access to abortion services. decision To terminate the constitutional right to process, according to government guidance issued on Thursday.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency tasked with housing unaccompanied children who lack legal status, instructed officials to avoid holding migrant children who are pregnant or who have served as Republicans. have faced sexual harassment in led shelters. States that restrict access to abortion.

Instead, those unaccompanied children “should be placed in states without abortion restrictions and with widespread access to reproductive health care for minors,” the guidance said.

The guidance states that if pregnant migrant girls living in states with abortion restrictions request the procedure, those minors must be transferred to shelters in states where abortion is legal. Pregnant girls in HHS care can voluntarily decide to live in a situation that prohibits abortion, but they should be informed of their rights and abortion restrictions.

“This field guidance confirms that ORR staff and care providers should not stop [unaccompanied children] All reasonable efforts must be made to facilitate access to legal abortion-related services and to facilitate access to these services when requested by ORR staff and care providers. [unaccompanied child]Said the guidance.

The refugee agency houses single migrant children, most of whom enter the country illegally along the southern border until they are 18 years old or can be placed with a sponsor, usually living in the US. As of November 9, agency government data showed that fewer than 10,000 children were living alone.

It is unclear how many pregnant migrant girls are currently in federal custody, but an administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal data, told CBS News that the population is relatively small.

Thirty-four percent of the 122,731 migrant children HHS received in fiscal year 2021 were girls, federal data show. The administration official said that following the Supreme Court ruling, HHS has already transferred some pregnant girls from states that have banned abortions.

Children taken along on March 27, 2021, immigrants who arrived illegally across the Rio Grande River from Mexico, in a photo in a temporary processing before being detained at a holding facility by Border Patrol agents in the border city of Roma Standing on the post.

Ed Jones / AFP via Getty Images

By reversing the decision of Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion for nearly 50 years, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court called for a ban or outright ban on the procedure for Republican officials in more than two dozen states. cleared the way.

The ruling has inspired progressive activists, Democratic politicians and the Biden administration, which has called for its executive authority to protect access to abortion in certain circumstances, including medical emergencies.

Neha Desai, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law who represents migrant children in a landmark court case, said the HHS guidance would ensure girls in federal care “won’t suffer the added trauma of being denied abortion because they It happens to have been placed in a state that is hostile to their rights.”

“These young people, like everyone else, should have access to abortion and reproductive health care,” Desai said. “I have spoken to hundreds of detained young people who have survived unimaginable trauma, including gang raped girls, and girls who, for a variety of reasons, have decided not to terminate pregnancies for them. It’s good.”

The latest HHS guidance expands on rules issued last October in response to a Texas law that makes most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy illegal. The October 2021 guidance directed officials to refrain from placing pregnant migrant girls in Texas shelters in general, and to relocate to other sites already in the state.

Access to abortion services for migrant children in US custody became a political flashpoint during the Trump administration, which in March 2017 issued a directive prohibiting asylum officials from providing child abortion facilities without approval from the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. given.

Scott Lloyd, who headed the refugee agency from March 2017 to November 2018, denied multiple requests for abortions for migrant girls in US custody, citing Trump policy, court documents said. She added that shelter officers can only provide “pregnancy services and life-affirming option counselling” to pregnant girls.

One of the abortion requests denied by Lloyd was from a 17-year-old migrant girl who had repeatedly requested abortions while in US care after being raped in her home country. In his denial, Lloyd concluded that abortion was not in her “best interest,” adding that it “would not undo or erase the memory of the violence committed against her.”

“We cannot be a place of refuge while being at the same time a place of violence,” Lloyd wrote in a December 2017 memo. “We have to choose, and we must choose to protect life rather than destroy it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged Lloyd’s refusal and the Trump administration’s abortion restrictions, which federal courts found violated the US Constitution. The legal defeat forced HHS to issue guidance in September 2020 that barred officials from interfering with abortion requests for migrant children.

Brigitte Amiri, an ACLU attorney who challenged Trump abortion restrictions for migrant children, expressed concern that a future Republican administration could limit or prohibit abortions for single minors in federal care as her group’s lawsuit is now taking place. -Reverse cry v. Based on the Wade rule.

“It is indeed a delicate right that will hang in the balance in the next election,” Amiri said.

Amiri said access to abortion is particularly important for migrant children because some of them experience sexual assault on their travels to the US or their home countries, some of which consider abortion illegal.

“This is a population that has suffered a lot, and they need the ability to make decisions about their pregnancy when they are here in the United States,” she said.

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