In the midst of the chaos and devastation wrought by the US Supreme Court stripping of the constitutional right to abortion, the Biden administration has stepped up efforts to protect access to abortion for pregnant unaccompanied immigrant youth. On November 10, 2022, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) announced new guidance to ensure that unaccompanied immigrant minors have access to abortions while they await reunification with family in the United States in ORR shelters. The policy requires ORR to prioritize placing pregnant immigrant youth in shelters in states where abortion is not prohibited, but if a minor is placed in a shelter in a state with restrictive abortion laws and requests an abortion, the policy requires timely transfer to a another state to access this care.
This new policy is an essential step in protecting the health and well-being of this marginalized population. ORR is the government agency responsible for caring for unaccompanied immigrant minors who are detained after crossing the border to find their families in the US and seek a safer and better life. Unfortunately, many of these young people experience sexual violence in their countries of origin or during the perilous journey to the US, and some may end up pregnant in ORR custody. This policy helps ensure that any minor who is pregnant can access abortion care quickly and confidentially if she believes it is the right decision for herself and her future. Pregnant child immigrants deserve to have their physical autonomy respected, even if they are detained by the government.
This guidance is crucial in the new patchwork of abortion in the United States and builds on previous policies that have been in place for years. legal battle to ensure access to abortion for minors in ORR custody. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of pregnant underage immigrants seeking abortion, sued the Trump administration for prohibiting abortion for unaccompanied minors by prohibiting them from leaving ORR shelters to receive abortion-related care. to get. This lawsuit secured these minors’ ability to access abortions, and ended when the Trump administration officially abandoned those draconian policies as a result of a settlement agreement that barred ORR staff and shelters from allowing unaccompanied pregnant minors access to to block or hinder abortion. The new 2022 policy builds on our settlement agreement and makes it clear that a minor in ORR’s care must have access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care, just as they would have access to any other medical procedure.
ORR’s decision to place pregnant unaccompanied immigrant youth in states where they can access all the health care they need, including abortion, is critical. Abortion bans not only prohibit access to abortion itself, but may also affect miscarriage care or emergency care that a pregnant minor may require. As the ACLU fights for a future where unaccompanied immigrant youth are not detained by the government, we applaud ORR for strengthening its policy on access to abortion, and we call on this and future governments to vigorously enforce the policy.
The Biden administration should also strengthen its reproductive health policy for other people in government custody, including the Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. Abortion is essential health care, and access to it should not depend on your immigration status, whether you are in prison or what state you are in. As we fight to restore access to abortion in states across the country, we’re taking a moment to celebrate these new policies. All people should have access to reproductive health care, including abortion, without barriers, shame or stigma.