(CN) – A federal judge in San Francisco struck down a lawsuit Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union that claimed U.S. Health and Human Services violated the separation of church and state by allocating millions of dollars to faith-based groups that took in unaccompanied immigrant minors but refused to give them birth control or access to abortions.
Filed in 2016, the lawsuit alleged groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made it difficult or impossible for the minors, some of whom were raped or victims of sex trafficking, to obtain birth control.
In her 34-page ruling, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the ACLU failed to substantiate those claims.
“There is no evidence in the record that any unaccompanied minor or trafficking victim who wanted an abortion or contraception during the time period relevant to this case was unable to obtain them,” Beeler wrote.
The judge granted summary judgment to the government and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in her ruling. The Catholic group received almost $10 million for immigration assistance in 2014.
Beeler said that the evidence in the case failed to back up the civil rights organization’s claims that religious groups imposed their beliefs on the minors. She added that the few times a minor in the care of such groups wanted an abortion, the government transferred the immigrant to another shelter run by a different organization.
“The fact that certain government grantees like the Bishops Conference have religious objections to abortion has, in three or four instances, led to unaccompanied minors being transferred from one shelter to another,” Beeler wrote. “When an unaccompanied minor who is housed at a shelter operated by an organization with such an objection asks for an abortion, the government facilitates a transfer to another shelter that does not have objections to abortion so that the minor can obtain an abortion.”
Beeler also pointed to records of unaccompanied minors who all requested and received birth control medication while residing in shelters run by faith-based groups.
“There is no evidence in the record that any unaccompanied minor who asked for contraception was unable to obtain it because of the religious objections of the Conference or any subgrantee,” Beeler wrote.
The ACLU argued that the transfer process harmed the immigrant minors because it delayed access to obtaining an abortion and forced them to leave their original support structure.
Beeler wrote that since the ACLU filed solely on its own, without an unaccompanied minor, it could not seek out putative damages. She added that the group failed to prove the government violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, noting that government officials were willing to accommodate a minor’s request for an abortion or birth control.
“Because there is no evidence that government tax money has been used to subsidize religion, the ACLU’s third-party-harm theory fails and cannot serve as the basis for the its Establishment Clause claim,” Beeler wrote.
Neither the ACLU nor U.S. Health and Human Services responded to requests for comments after business hours Thursday evening.