Australian woman deported from US says border agency told her questions about abortion were policy

An Australian woman says the US border agency told her that asking travellers about terminating a pregnancy is in line with their policies after she was detained at an airport and then deported.

Madolline Gourley says she was asked whether she’d had an abortion while detained at Los Angeles airport in June. It came days after Roe v Wade – the landmark court case that legalised abortion – was overturned in the United States.

Gourley says she was en route to Canada when she was held in a detention room, interrogated twice, patted down, fingerprinted, photographed and then deported during a stopover in the US.

She was detained over suspicions regarding her intention to house and cat sit during her holiday.

Following a Guardian Australia report on her experience, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reportedly launched an investigation into the matter. Two months later, Gourley was told asking travellers about termination of pregnancy was part of their official policies.

She says a special agent within the office of professional responsibility told her the questions she was asked were in line with the policies and procedures related to travellers in CBP custody.

According to the CBP’s publicly available policy, termination is not mentioned in reference to women of child-rearing age. Pregnancy loss is defined as “stillbirths and miscarriages”.

“I looked at the policy and the form they provided and termination of pregnancy is not listed on the form or the policy,” the Brisbane resident said.

“I’m pretty pissed off, it took them about two months to come back with that and less than two hours to investigate what I was saying and send me home.

“I’m annoyed but having said that I actually thought they would say I made the whole thing up … in a sense I was surprised they said yes, we do ask those questions.”

Gourley said she was not asked about her medical history outside of whether she’d had an abortion until two hours into the interview, when a different officer asked if she was taking medication.

Prior, a US border official asked Gourley, who was wearing a loose-fitting dress, whether she was pregnant. The same question was repeated as she was moved between rooms. When she again told the US officials she was not pregnant, Gourley says she was asked whether she had had an abortion.

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection said they could not comment “on a private conservation between a traveller and a CBP official” but “the correct terminology is pregnancy loss”.

Customs and Border Protection said in a statement: “The health and well-being of those under our custody is a top priority for CBP. Under current guidelines, CBP officials are required to collect information regarding potential medical issues of concern, including pregnancy, postpartum and pregnancy loss to childbearing females in CBP custody.

“This guideline ensures that all humanitarian and public health needs of childbearing females in temporary detention are addressed appropriately.

“CBP officers ask overall medical concern questions to all travellers found inadmissible (males and females) under temporary detention. For childbearing age females there are additional questions regarding pregnancy.”

Gourley said: “They’ve changed their story [to the media] three or four times in less than two weeks … and gone from that I was asked about termination to loss of pregnancy.

“They’re trying to cover their own ass. I’d like them to be held accountable.”