WASHINGTON ― A 17-year-old undocumented immigrant was finally able to terminate her pregnancy on Wednesday morning after weeks of obstruction by the Trump administration. Jane Doe, as the girl is known in court, had an abortion after a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday afternoon that the federal government could no longer block her from leaving a shelter for the procedure.
But other undocumented minors are in similar situations. And while Jane Doe found relief, her abortion won’t immediately resolve a broader issue: The Trump administration is going to great lengths to keep minors in its custody from getting abortions.
“This is one battle in a war that we are in with the Trump administration about access to reproductive health care and attacks on immigrants and civil rights in general,” Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project who represented the teen, told HuffPost. “What happened to Jane Doe is really symptomatic of a larger problem with the Trump administration. ... They have started with the most vulnerable, unaccompanied immigrant minors, but I have no doubt that they will try to escalate and roll back reproductive rights for many others.”
There are hundreds of pregnant immigrant minors in U.S. government custody at any given time, according to the ACLU, although it’s unknown how many are seeking abortions. The legal fight will continue for them in a class action suit to block the administration policies that prevent them from obtaining abortions.
The Trump administration blocked Jane Doe from leaving a shelter to get an abortion for a full month, stretching her pregnancy to 16 weeks, even after she received permission from a Texas state judge on Sept. 25 to make her own decision about an abortion. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has her in its custody, had refused to allow her to leave a shelter to undergo the procedure at her own expense, although it did let her out to go to a “crisis pregnancy center” where she was urged to reconsider. Abortion is illegal in the girl’s home country.
Jane Doe said in a statement released Wednesday that it had been “very difficult” to wait in the shelter for more than a month before she was allowed to proceed.
“No one should be shamed for making the right decision for themselves,” Jane Doe said in a statement released through her guardian. “I would not tell any other girl in my situation what they should do. That decision is hers and hers alone.”
The Trump administration’s Office of Refugee Resettlement has implemented new policies to deter abortions for minors in its care. While previously office directors were involved only in decisions over whether government funding could be used for abortion, such as cases of rape, the new rules demand veto power on any abortion, even if it wouldn’t be funded by the government. The current director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement is Scott Lloyd, a former attorney for the Knights of Columbus who opposes abortion.
Lloyd personally visited a shelter to urge another unaccompanied minor to continue her pregnancy, according to the ACLU. In another case, then-Office of Refugee Resettlement acting director Ken Tota made a minor go to the emergency room after she had taken the first of two doses for a medical abortion to see if the pregnancy could be continued, according to the suit. That minor was ultimately able to complete the abortion.
The Trump administration wrote in court filings that it has “strong and constitutionally legitimate interests in promoting childbirth, in refusing to facilitate abortion, and in not providing incentives for pregnant minors to illegally cross the border to obtain elective abortions while in federal custody.”
There is no doubt in my mind that they are going to do everything that they can to fight us not just with access for other unaccompanied minors but ... for many more women. Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
The Trump administration has argued that it is not blocking Jane Doe’s access to abortion. A government attorney said she could leave the U.S. if she wanted to undergo the procedure ― even though abortion is against the law in her native country ― or be released to a sponsor. The teen is not yet in deportation proceedings, according to her attorneys, so it is unclear whether she has legal avenues to remain in the United States. She has been in U.S. custody since early September because the government has not found her a sponsor.
The government attorney said the Justice Department was not addressing the question of whether undocumented immigrants have the constitutional right to abortion as part of the Jane Doe hearing.
A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to an inquiry on whether the Trump administration had been preparing to take the case to the Supreme Court.
The government also argued that it should not have to “facilitate” an abortion for Jane Doe, even though its involvement would only be to approve her temporarily leaving the shelter to obtain the procedure. The same argument about facilitation could be applied to women in prison or in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and although the government has not raised it in those situations, their rights are also a concern, Amiri said.
It also falls in line with broader efforts to curb reproductive rights under the Trump administration, she said.
“They have gone to incredible lengths to prevent Jane Doe from accessing an abortion,” Amiri said. “There is no doubt in my mind that they are going to do everything that they can to fight us not just with access for other unaccompanied minors but ... for many more women.”
One judge wrote that the Trump administration had “bulldozed over constitutional lines” by arguing that Jane Doe should be forced to leave the country if she wanted an abortion.
“Surely the mere act of entry into the United States without documentation does not mean that an immigrant’s body is no longer her or his own,” Patricia Millett, the appeals court judge, wrote. “Nor can the sanction for unlawful entry be forcing a child to have a baby. The bedrock protections of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause cannot be that shallow.”