Biden Admin Moves To Secure Abortion Access for Unaccompanied Migrant Children

U.S. President Joe Biden answers a question during a news conference held after the 2022 U.S. midterm elections in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 9, 2022. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
November 10, 2022

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters)—The Biden administration issued a directive on Thursday saying that pregnant migrant children should be sheltered in states that allow abortions, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion.

The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in guidance issued to staff also said that girls who are sheltered in states such as Texas that ban abortion and request abortion services should be transferred to states that allow the procedure.

ORR is responsible for sheltering unaccompanied minors who enter the U.S. illegally.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, its landmark 1973 ruling that recognized a constitutional right to have an abortion. At least 20 states now have full or partial abortion bans, although some have been blocked by litigation.

About one-third of the 123,000 unaccompanied migrant children who were taken into U.S. custody in fiscal year 2021 were female, according to ORR data. The data does not identify how many of them were pregnant.

Thursday's guidance builds on a memo ORR issued last year that said pregnant unaccompanied minors should not be sheltered in Texas, after the state passed a restrictive abortion ban. The directive makes the guidance the agency's official policy.

During the Trump administration, ORR prohibited staff from facilitating abortions without permission from the agency's director. In 2019, a U.S. appeals court said that policy was unconstitutional.

Thursday's guidance ensures access to abortion and other reproductive health services for migrants who would otherwise face major hurdles in crossing state lines, according to Brigitte Amiri of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Abortion is essential health care, and accessing it shouldn't depend on your immigration status, whether you're incarcerated, or which state you're in," Amiri said in a statement.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Leslie Adler)