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Immigrant Access to Abortion

was restricted by the administration’s Office of Refugee Resettlement under the Trump-Pence administration



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Why It Matters

  • The Trump-Pence administration introduced a policy that required immigrants under the age of 18 who are in custody with the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to get the government’s approval to access safe, legal abortion. 

  • The policy aimed to block young immigrants from accessing abortion safely and legally. 

  • ORR used the policy to deny every request for abortion made early in the Trump-Pence administration until an injunction put the policy on hold; all of the immigrants who requested access to abortion found a way around the policy. 

  • An ACLU lawsuit ultimately officially stopped the policy at the end of President Trump’s term.


Key Players

Scott Lloyd

Former Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS)

Resigned: June 2019
Alex Azar

Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Nominated by Trump: 11-13-2017
William Barr

U.S. Attorney General (DOJ)

Nominated by Trump: 1-3-2019
Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. Attorney General (DOJ)

Resigned: 11-07-2018


What to expect next: The ACLU will keep monitoring the ORR to ensure it doesn’t interfere with abortion access for young immigrants trapped in detention.

  • 12-7-2020
    DACA starts accepting new applications and is fully reinstated to what it was before the Trump administration tried to end the program in 2017

  • 12-4-2020
    A federal judge orders the Trump administration to fully restore DACA and open the program to new applicants for the first time since 2017

  • 12-2-2020
    A federal appeals court rules against the Trump-Pence administration’s public charge rule and safeguards immigrants’ access to public benefits in part of the country — while other public charge lawsuits play out


  • 9-29-2020
    The Office of Refugee Resettlement stops its policy of blocking, interfering with, and nonconsensually communicating about young immigrant’s access to abortion care

  • 9-14-2020
    Immigrants being held in a Georgia detention center file a whistleblower complaint that alleges high rates of hysterectomies performed on unwilling detained immigrants

  • 6-18-2020
    The U.S. Supreme Court rules to strike down the administration’s efforts to dismantle DACA, protecting at least 700,000 young immigrants who have grown up in the United States from deportation

  • 2-24-2020
    Public charge rule goes into effect nationwide

  • 1-27-2020
    Supreme Court rules that the administration can use its new “public charge” standard while lawsuits against it go forward

  • 9-1-2019
    Supreme Court temporarily permits third-country rule, which denies most asylum claims at the Southern border

  • 8-21-2019
    Trump administration announced a final "family detention" rule that would allow it to detain children indefinitely; the rule is enjoined the next month

  • 8-12-2019
    Trump administration issues final “public charge” rule designed to stop immigrants from accessing public benefits to which they are legally entitled

  • 7-16-2019
    Rule issued that makes immigrants ineligible for U.S. asylum if they passed through Mexico — denying asylum to nearly all South American immigrants

“This is my life, my decision. I want a better future. I want justice.”

Interfering in Immigrants’ Access to Safe, Legal Abortion

The administration's policy to interfere in immigrants’ access to safe, legal abortion affected the hundreds of pregnant, undocumented immigrant women who are in ORR’s custody every year. These immigrants, who are age 17 or younger, are often alone and facing language and cultural barriers.

Background on the Office of Refugee Resettlement's Interference With Access to Abortion

Trump Gave Up Public Charge Rule Fight in September 2020

Three years of court battles ended in September 2020, when the Trump-Pence administration dropped the fight and changed its policy. The current policy prohibits ORR staff from blocking young detainees from obtaining abortions and prevents staff from forcing detainees to disclose their pregnancies. Officials and health care providers must also ensure access to medical appointments related to pregnancy just as they would with other health conditions.

Buzzfeed News
Immigrants Were Able to Access Safe, Legal Abortion

The ORR denied at least seven young immigrants' requests for abortion — even when the pregnancy resulted from rape. All of these women and girls were ultimately able to access abortion despite the government’s extreme efforts.

New York Times
Extreme Control Over Pregnant Detainees

In an overreach of power, the ORR director received a weekly updated spreadsheet on the condition of every pregnant teen in its custody. Under Director Scott Lloyd, the ORR went so far as to consider forcing a teenage girl in custody to undergo an experimental and unproven treatment to "reverse" an abortion.

Detaining Pregnant Immigrants and Not Taking Care of Them

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) used to have limits on detaining pregnant immigrants that almost always required releasing them on bond or under supervision. However, the Trump-Pence administration expanded ICE’s power to detain pregnant immigrants. The administration’s policy to hold pregnant immigrants in custody during their immigration proceedings had devastating effects on the detained women, their pregnancies, and their families. The number of undocumented pregnant people who had miscarriages while in government detention nearly doubled in the administration’s first two years.

Tracking Trump: Detaining Pregnant Immigrants
Scott Lloyd — the Man Behind the Policy

Former ORR Director Scott Lloyd helped create the policy that gave the person in his position final say in whether young immigrant women can access safe, legal abortion. He was the one who got to decide.

Tracking Trump: Scott Lloyd
Blocking Abortion Access is Unconstitutional

In one of many such cases, the ACLU sued the ORR in October 2017 for unconstitutionally blocking a young undocumented woman in its custody from access to abortion and violating the constitutional right to abortion. The policy has been fiercely defended by Secretary of HHS Alex Azar and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions — even though it’s clearly unconstitutional and therefore illegal.

The Hill
Tracking Undocumented Girls’ Periods

According to documents released by MSNBC and American Bridge in March 2019, the government was not just tracking pregnant people. Reports indicate that the ORR director was also tracking the menstrual cycles of undocumented girls in its custody — ostensibly to find out if they became pregnant. Former ORR Director Scott Lloyd denied this under oath, but the revelations in the news spurred members of Congress to ask Lloyd to clarify.

Hip Latina

Related Issues

Legal Status for Dreamers

Detention of Pregnant Immigrants

2020 Census

Separating Immigrant Families


Public Benefits for Immigrants

Immigrant Access to Abortion

The Muslim Ban

Pregnant Travelers