On Tuesday, a federal district judge had to order the Office of Refugee Resettlement to let an undocumented 17-year-old in its custody at a Texas detention facility secure an abortion — you know, the medical procedure that is allegedly protected by constitutional law up until (and sometimes beyond) the point of fetal viability. ORR had repeatedly tried to keep that from happening, and had even forced the young woman to undergo religiously based “counseling” in an effort to convince her to carry her pregnancy to term.
The administration basically argued in the case that the right to choose is one that it must only observe in the most limited circumstances. Per the Washington Post:
In court filings, the government said it has “strong and constitutionally legitimate interests in promoting childbirth, in refusing to facilitate abortion, and in not providing incentives for pregnant minors to illegally cross the border to obtain elective abortions while in federal custody.”
The judge hearing the case, D.C. district court judge Tanya Chutkan, was clearly amazed if not offended by the administration’s position, and particularly its contention that the woman in question could self-deport and get an abortion in her country of origin.
“I am astounded by that position,” Chutkan said in a 40-minute hearing that was mostly consumed by a back-and-forth between the judge and Scott Stewart, a deputy assistant attorney general.
What makes the case even more egregious is that the woman being held in government custody was struggling to deal with Texas’s Republican-imposed laws making entirely legal abortions more difficult than ever, including advanced counseling requirements and a post-20-week ban. She is currently 15 weeks into her pregnancy. It is difficult to avoid the impression that the ORR authorities were trying to run out the clock and deny her any choice at all. And ORR continues to act as though fighting the right to an abortion is part of its mission:
“There is no constitutional right for a pregnant minor to illegally cross the U.S. border and get an elective abortion while in federal custody,” the agency said after the hearing. “Federal law is very clear on giving the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement the legal responsibility to care for the health and well-being of a minor in the unaccompanied alien children program and, in this case, her unborn baby. We cannot cede our responsibility to care for minors and their babies by releasing them to ideological advocacy groups.”
That’s how ORR describes letting a woman access medical services that are — it cannot be stressed too often — not only legal but constitutionally protected. Those who offer these services are “ideological advocacy groups.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
And even after Judge Chutkan’s order, the administration continues to try to run out the clock on an abortion by appealing it to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
This strange position begins to make more sense when you learn about the current Trump-appointed director of ORR. His name is E. Scott Lloyd, previously an attorney with the conservative Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus. He has no experience in resettling refugees. But he does have abundant experience opposing legal abortion.
The whole case is a good example of what can happen when two of the Trump administration’s ideological impulses — fighting reproductive rights and incarcerating undocumented immigrants — come together. It’s enough to astound any judge.