An undocumented teen immigrant, dubbed ‘Jane Doe’ in court papers, has won a legal battle to allow her to get an abortion, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to prevent her from doing so. One month after a Texas state judge first gave Doe permission to receive the abortion, and only days after three judges on the panel ruled she would need to wait before receiving the procedure.
The full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 6-3, overruling their previous decision, in which the panel told the federal government to find Doe an immigration sponsor to take her in by October 31, before she could have an abortion. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked for an appeal and argued that the deadline would be too late for Doe who was believed to be 16 weeks pregnant at the time of the first court decision; Texas state laws do not allow for abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Doe is a 17 year old undocumented immigrant from an unspecified Central American country, who was detained at the U.S.-Mexico border in early September. After a medical examination found she was pregnant, she obtained permission from a Texas state judge to have an abortion without parental consent. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which houses undocumented immigrants in shelters, refused to allow Doe to leave the shelter for her procedure. The ACLU then filed suit on Doe’s behalf, and she was able to have the procedure.
In a statement, Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said that while “justice prevailed today for Jane Doe” they have seen “the astounding lengths this administration will go to block women from abortion care. We will not stop fighting until we have justice for every woman like Jane.”
Doe also released a statement through her guardian, in which she said, “No one should be shamed for making the right decisions for themselves. I would not tell any other girl in my situation what they should do. That decision is hers and hers alone.”
This issue has again ignited the debate surrounding both illegal immigration and abortion rights. While Doe had a constitutional right to obtain an abortion, despite not being an American citizen, policy changes under the Trump administration, along with the extraordinary lengths the administration went to stop her, highlight the administration’s strong stance against abortion. The director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), E. Scott Lloyd, is vehemently against abortion and instituted a new rule, which required minors to obtain his permission if they wanted access to abortion services, regardless of whether they wanted federal government funds for the procedure. According to the ACLU, the ORR frequently takes pregnant women seeking an abortion to fake abortion clinics, where they are subjected to unnecessary medical procedures, given unasked for sonograms, misinformed about their pregnancy, and coerced into changing their minds about abortion.
This behaviour is not new. According to the National Women’s Law Centre, other immigration shelters behave similarly, attempting to block women from receiving abortions and in some cases, blocking their access to birth control or emergency contraception. As the ORR has a policy of not “facilitating” abortions, the government argued, they are not required to arrange transport and care for women receiving abortions. While this policy was acknowledged by the first appeals court, due to the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, women have a constitutional right to seek out abortion services and ACLU lawyers argued Doe’s constitutional rights were being blocked by the government.
Doe’s situation is not an anomaly. Many other undocumented immigrant women face similar hardships and fears when attempting to seek out medical and reproductive health care for themselves. In response, the ACLU has filed a motion for class certification which would allow other undocumented minors to seek abortions without the ORR’s interference. While this would give undocumented minors easier access to healthcare services, it cannot come soon enough, as many minors continue to face hardships and forced pregnancies under an administration that has repeatedly shown little regard for undocumented immigrants and women’s reproductive rights as well as bodily autonomy.
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