As illegal immigrant children surge across the southern border, the Biden administration says it’s making sure it places pregnant teens in states where they can still get abortions in the wake of this summer’s Supreme Court ruling.
Even though bed space for the kids is at a premium, the administration revealed in court documents that it is reserving some to make sure pregnant juveniles have a landing spot in a licensed facility in abortion-friendly states — even if it means other kids end up in unlicensed facilities.
The children in question are those who come to the border without parents — so-called Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UACs. Under federal law and court rulings most of them must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services for care while they await sponsors to pick them up.
“Pregnant children are considered particularly vulnerable children under the EIS settlement agreement, and thus settlement considerations, along with recent actions by state governments and the U.S. Supreme Court, have further influenced ORR’s decision-making so that it can keep appropriate licensed placements open and available for a pregnant child who may need access to medical care,” the administration told U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee in court filings last week.
The focus on abortion is not sitting well with Republicans.
“In a new low, even for the most pro-abortion president in U.S. history, President Biden apparently only wants pregnant minors who illegally cross our southern border to be placed in states where they can get an abortion,” said Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican. “His priority seems to be increasing abortions in America, rather than stopping illegal immigration or protecting the lives of children.
“These unaccompanied kids should be safely and quickly reunited with family in their home country, not shipped to states where they can obtain an abortion, which is potentially a violation of the Hyde amendment that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion,” Mr. Lankford told The Washington Times in a statement.
More than 116,000 UACs have been nabbed by Customs and Border Protection officers and agents in fiscal 2022, up through June. July numbers have yet to be released.
As of last Wednesday, HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which oversees the children, had 11,156 of them in its facilities. Based on historical data, about a third of those are likely to be girls.
HHS did not say how many are pregnant or how many of those have indicated they want abortions.
Peter Schey, the lawyer for the children in a class-action lawsuit in which the administration revealed its abortion focus, said the number of pregnant teens “is minuscule.”
He said that while he supports making sure they have access to abortion, it is a poor excuse for leaving other children in unlicensed facilities.
“It would be far more humane and less costly for ORR to hire additional case managers to work on promptly releasing minors to their families than paying the exorbitant costs associated with detaining thousands of minors in so-called emergency influx centers,” Mr. Schey told The Times.
Those influx centers aren’t supposed to be used except in emergencies because the care they deliver is not as good as licensed facilities. Disease, assault and poor medical care have all been reported at the emergency facilities.
Mr. Schey has been battling the administration over its decision-making in leaving licensed facility beds empty while still using unlicensed ones.
In its court filings HHS said it uses a “complicated decision-making process” to figure out where to place UACs. Part of that is the abortion contingency planning, HHS revealed.
That focus struck former officials as odd.
“It would seem that the Biden administration is prioritizing abortion politics over the humanitarian portion of its immigration mission. This is consistent with the fact that they prioritize politics over everything,” said Ken Cuccinelli, who served as acting deputy secretary at Homeland Security in the Trump administration.
The Times made repeated requests to HHS for data on the number of pregnant teens and abortion requests within the UAC population but the department didn’t answer those inquiries.
The department did issue a statement to The Times saying it is “monitoring any impact the Supreme Court decision may have on its programs.”
The justices, in a 6-3 ruling in late June, overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had created a national constitutional right to abortion. Without Roe, the issue has returned to the states. A number of those states have laws that took effect limiting access to abortion.
Texas, for example, which now effectively bars abortion, has long been a major location of UAC facilities. Arizona, where a potential ban has been blocked by a federal judge, and Florida, which has a ban on abortions after 15 weeks, have also been big players in the UAC shelter business.
The number of abortions among migrant teens has likely soared under the Biden administration, simply because the overall number of arrivals is higher.
That’s due to a policy change the Biden team made in January 2021, exempting UACs from the Title 42 pandemic border shutdown policy that had allowed most illegal immigrants to be quickly pushed back across the border.
The number of arriving UACs encountered by border authorities was 5,882 that January, and had averaged fewer than 4,000 in the previous seven months.
But by March 2021, just two months into the Biden experiment, UAC arrivals neared 19,000, and in the 15 months since has averaged more than 14,000 a month.
The Trump administration also took a different approach to abortion access for UAC, adding an extra layer of review and discouraging teens in custody from seeking to exercise that option.
That sparked a nasty legal fight, with abortion-rights advocates arguing that once here, the children had a constitutional right to abortion. Trump administration defenders countered that the U.S. was in danger of becoming a destination for “abortion tourism,” with juveniles seeking to jump the border to have the procedure when it might be illegal back home.
A federal district judge sided with the abortion-rights advocates, ruling that she would not force girls to return to countries where they wouldn’t have access to abortion.
During the case, the government did reveal some data about how common abortion was.
In data from fiscal year 2017, the government recorded nabbing 41,546 UACs and of those, 420 pregnant teens ended up in HHS’ custody.
Eighteen had requested abortions, and 11 had gone through with the procedure while in custody. Another five rescinded their request, and two were turned over to sponsors before a final decision was made.