The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services instructed the Office of Refugee Resettlement to make all reasonable efforts, including transportation across state lines, to ensure unaccompanied pregnant minors can obtain abortions.
In a field guidance memo initially released last month but revised Thursday, the HHS noted that Congress tasked the department with caring for “unaccompanied children (UC).” The guidance instructs all ORR and care providers to take all “reasonable efforts” to help minors access abortions if they request one.
“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 guidance reads.
If a minor requests an abortion, the ORR may need to transfer the minor to a state-licensed ORR program that can care for the pregnant minor and help them access a licensed provider.
ORR is tasked with housing unaccompanied migrant children who entered the country illegally until they turn 18 or can be placed with a sponsor. Federal data indicates that nearly 130,000 migrant children entered the U.S. government's shelter system in the fiscal year 2022.
This year, federal agencies have reviewed how the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization this June overturning Roe v. Wade will impact abortion access as several states have banned or restricted abortion in their borders.
The new HHS guideline instructs the ORR Intakes Team to prioritize placing pregnant unaccompanied girls and minor victims of sexual assault in states “without abortion bans and with broad access to reproductive health care for minors.”
“ORR Intakes Team may consult with the on-call Federal Field Specialist (FFS) and/or ORR’s Division of Health for Unaccompanied Children (DHUC) on the placement of a UC who is pregnant or at risk for pregnancy as a result of a sexual-based crime if the need arises,” the report reads.
“For example, this consultation may include planning to secure emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infection testing for the UC, as needed.”
The longstanding Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding of abortions, barring cases of rape, incest or if the pregnancy presents a risk to the mother’s life. Under the amendment, the HHS is forbidden to use tax dollars to fund abortions.
The updated guidance has drawn the ire of the leading national pro-life grassroots activist groups like SBA Pro-Life America.
“The Biden administration will stop at nothing to push its radical pro-abortion agenda, even taking unaccompanied young girls who are separated from their family from state to state to be exploited by the profit-driven abortion industry,” SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement.
“More than a dozen states including the border state of Texas have laws in place to protect unborn children and the well-being of women and girls. The Biden administration’s obsession with abortion is on display in this guidance which prioritizes placing all unaccompanied pregnant teens in radical abortion states — whether they want an abortion or not. When an abortion is sought, there are no gestational limits, not even on late-term abortions — part of the Democrats’ larger agenda of imposing abortion on demand nationwide, up until the moment of birth, paid for by taxpayers."
Neha Desai, a lawyer for the National Center for Youth Law, told ABC News that the new HHS guidance seeks to ensure girls being housed in federal care "will not endure the additional trauma of having their access to abortion denied because they happen to be placed in a state that is hostile towards their rights."
"I have spoken to hundreds of youth in custody who have survived unimaginable trauma, including girls that were gang raped, and girls that, for a variety of reasons, decided it was best for them not to carry pregnancies to term," Desai said.
Chelsey Youman, the national legislative advisor for the pro-life advocacy organization Human Coalition Action, contends that the administration's policy enables "predators to continue victimizing women and children and aims to conduct abortions on their minor victims."
"What kind of message does this send to the rest of the world that we prioritize abortions instead of protection for immigrants?" Youman asked. "These children need compassion, quality medical care, and support — but instead we’re offering abortion — paid for by taxpayers. The United States has the power to end human trafficking and provide real solutions to hurting communities along the border, instead the administration chooses neglect. Vulnerable immigrant populations deserve better."
The updated HHS guidance is not the first time the Biden administration has signaled its intention to help women living in states that ban or restrict abortion obtain abortions in other states.
In October, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. Department of Defense would pay for service members to travel out-of-state to obtain abortions to "ensure that our Service members can access reproductive health care and our health care providers can operate effectively."
In September, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs medical systems performed its first abortion a few weeks after the Biden administration finalized a new regulation allowing the federal agency to provide abortions to eligible recipients in cases in cases of rape, incest or if the woman's life is in danger.
Opposing the new regulation, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. sent a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, citing Section 106 of the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992, which prohibits the VA from providing abortions, among other services.
"Abortion is not and will never be healthcare," Lankford wrote.
"Healthcare protects life. Abortion takes life. Instead of promoting the taking of human life, I would challenge you, and others within the VA, to respect the dignity of our veterans and all of their family members, including unborn children, by ensuring services provided and funded by the VA are focused on true healthcare consistent with federal law."
More recently, a nonprofit organization filed a lawsuit against HHS, accusing it of suppressing information about chemical abortion and its dangers.
In an Oct. 26 statement, the watchdog group Judicial Watch announced it's pursuing the lawsuit due to the HHS’s failure to produce documents about the abortion pill after the group had filed several requests through the Freedom of Information Act. The conservative watchdog group filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Oct. 17.
“Our experience is that this chemical abortion pill did not and will not receive appropriate review from the politicized [Department of Justice],” Judicial President Tom Fitton said. “It is outrageous that Judicial Watch has had to sue in federal court for basic safety information about the abortion pill, which is being pushed on women by a desperate pro-abortion movement.”
The legal filing outlines how Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request on Feb. 24, asking a division of the Department of Health and Human Services to provide “all emails and written correspondence, both internal and with the manufacturers of Mifeprex and Mifepristone regarding review and acceptance of those drugs’ drug stability and dissolution test results.”
The FOIA request sought “reports from all FDA inspections of DANCO and GenBio manufacturing facilities, and assessment of compliance with applicable laws and regulations.” DANCO and GenBio are two facilities that manufacture abortion drugs.
An additional request sought information about “Investigational New Drug Applications and related materials for the drug Mifeprex and its generic equivalent, Mifepristone” as well as “New Drug Applications ... from Jan. 24, 1990, to the present.
A third request asked for test results measuring the stability of the abortion pill from Jan. 24, 1995, to the present from the Food and Drug Administration.
The complaint notes that the FDA acknowledged each request in March and “referred to the 10-day extension to reply.” Judicial Watch alleges that the government agency did not comply with the request in a timely manner.