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Government fortifies abortion access for migrant children

Department of Health and Human Services guidance comes after some Republican-led states restricted the procedure

The Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington is shown.
The Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington is shown. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

New Department of Health and Human Services guidelines released Thursday instruct the government to ensure unaccompanied migrant children in its care have access to abortion, even if it means taking them to another state.

The department, which takes custody of unaccompanied minors, unveiled a six-page field guidance document that tells staff to “make all reasonable efforts” to facilitate access to abortion if requested by a migrant.

“This may involve transporting a minor to a state in which abortion is lawful and available, if the minor is currently in a state in which abortion is not lawful or available,” the document said.

The guidance comes five months after a Supreme Court ruling that wiped out the constitutional right to abortion. That paved the way for Republican-led states across the country to adopt far-reaching restrictions on the procedure, prompting thousands of women in those states to seek abortions in other states.

The guidance also instructed intake teams at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which handles unaccompanied minor care, to prioritize placement of pregnant unaccompanied minors and minors who have experience sexual violence in states without abortion bans.

The new HHS guidance maintains it is consistent with a current policy, known as Garza, adopted after a lawsuit brought against the government in 2017 on behalf of an unaccompanied minor who was denied an abortion.

The Garza policy requires the government to not interfere with minors’ access to abortion and limit the disclosure of minors’ pregnancy and abortion information.

“Consistent with Garza, ORR prioritizes the transfer of UC requesting abortion to a state with access to abortion care, in the same manner as ORR would transfer a UC to another care provider to secure appropriate medical services,” the guidance said.

The American Civil Liberties Union praised the HHS guidance in a news release.

“The abortion bans in places like Texas not only prohibit access to abortion, but also to some miscarriage care,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said.

“While unaccompanied immigrant youth should not be detained in the first place, this guidance will play a critical role in ensuring health care access for them, many of whom come to the United States fleeing violent circumstances, including sexual assault,” Amiri said.

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