For the last three weeks, the federal government has essentially held a pregnant young woman hostage, refusing to let her get an abortion.
Denied Her Rights
The seventeen-year-old—known as Jane Doe—is an unaccompanied immigrant, meaning that she came to this country without her parents. She is being detained at a privately-run shelter in Brownsville, Texas as she awaits her immigration hearing. Four weeks ago, Doe decided to end her pregnancy, and got permission from a state court judge to do so, as required by Texas law. But since then, federal officials have refused to allow her to leave the shelter to obtain the abortion. They won’t let her court-appointed representatives or shelter personnel transport her to the health center, which stands ready to provide the care she needs. Instead, government officials took Jane Doe to a religiously-affiliated pregnancy crisis center. They even called Jane’s physically abusive mother in her home country to tell her about the pregnancy, over Jane’s objections.
Jane Doe is Not the Only One
Under new policies imposed by the Trump administration, the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), E. Scott Lloyd, must personally approve any action a shelter takes that would “facilitate” an abortion. This apparently includes simply signing the paperwork providing permission for her to leave the shelter with her guardian ad litem or attorney.
Lloyd has made it his personal crusade to prevent undocumented women and refugees from accessing abortions. He has even contacted unaccompanied pregnant minors to try and talk them out of their decision to have an abortion. ORR has forced other undocumented young women to carry their pregnancies to term, even in cases of rape. Further, the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies have made the net wider, putting a greater number of undocumented women at risk.
Taking the Case to Court
The ACLU is suing the Administration to stop ORR from preventing Doe – and any other unaccompanied young women in a similar situation – from getting an abortion.
On Friday, a divided three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in D.C. gave the government until October 31 to find a private sponsor who could house Doe, and allow her to get an abortion. Essentially, the court is requiring Jane to remain pregnant against her will while ORR searches for a sponsor. Judge Millet wrote a blistering 10-page dissent stating, “There are no winners in cases like these. But there sure are losers. As of today, J.D. has already been forced by the government to continue an unwanted pregnancy for almost four weeks, and now. . . must continue to carry that pregnancy. . . [a decision which] sacrifices J.D.’s constitutional liberty, autonomy, and personal dignity for no justifiable governmental reason.”
The ACLU has asked the entire appeals court to reconsider this decision and the case is moving forward rapidly—but not rapidly enough—given the time constraints.
The Government’s Actions Could Force Jane to Give Birth
Jane is now about 15 weeks pregnant and ORR may be able to delay Jane so that she is eventually unable to get an abortion at all. Texas has multiple abortion restrictions, including an unconstitutional ban on abortions after 20 weeks, medically unnecessary counseling requirements, and a mandatory 24-hour delay. To make matters worse, the doctor who performs the abortion has to be the same doctor that provided the counseling. Because of the limited access to abortion care in Texas, a few doctors travel around the state (sometimes from across the country) to provide them. If Jane Doe misses an appointment next week, she may have to wait another two weeks to see the same doctor that provided her with counseling.
A Threat to All Women
Every day Jane has to remain pregnant against her will is not just a violation of her constitutionally protected right to an abortion–it’s an affront to her dignity. The arguments made by government lawyers in this case make two things abundantly clear—(1) the government believes that a federal official in Washington has greater authority under the constitution to prevent a minor’s abortion than not only the state, but also the young woman herself, or her parents, and (2) the government does not see ORR’s tactics as creating an ‘undue burden’ for women trying to access an abortion. Both of these positions are in blatant contradiction and disregard of Supreme Court precedent, not to mention our country’s most basic ideals.
This is an extremely troubling position for the government to take, and endangers the reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy of all women.
Bottom line: the government should not be able to force any women to give birth against her will. But we are watching the current Administration attempt to do exactly that.