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The Trump Administration Is Holding An Immigrant Girl Prisoner Because She Asked For an Abortion

The Trump administration is trying to use court delays to force a young woman to either continue her pregnancy – or leave the United States.

A 17-year-old girl, who has chosen to go by the name Jane Doe (J.D.), fled her home country in Central America (also unidentified at her request) and crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas. She was undocumented, and is currently being held at a detention center in Brownsville, Texas in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Upon arriving in the United States, she discovered she was pregnant after a medical exam, and sought to procure an abortion.

She went through all the required steps, obtaining the judicial waiver that is mandated by Texas law, and acquiring a guardian ad litem who will transport her to the clinic and cover the cost of the procedure. However, the government will not release her to the clinic get her abortion, claiming that it has a policy of “refusing to facilitate” abortions for undocumented minors and “promot[ing] child birth and fetal life.”

HHS was willing, however, to drive Jane Doe to a religious counseling center which pressured her to continue her pregnancy.

On October 18, a court ordered HHS to immediately release Jane Doe to procure her abortion, but the government appealed to a Washington, D.C. court. Now, the latest ruling on that appeal has given the government yet another flimsy excuse to delay Jane Doe’s abortion. The appeals court declared that HHS has, as the ACLU summarized, “until October 31 to find a sponsor and release Jane Doe to that sponsor. If HHS cannot find a suitable sponsor in that time frame, the court’s order states that the lower court may re-enter its order requiring the government to release her for an abortion, but that order would be subject to appeals.”

The assigning of a sponsor would give HHS a way around the “refusing to facilitate” issue. If Jane Doe can be released from the detention center to a sponsor, then the government would no longer be arguably “facilitating” the abortion. However, the government has been unable to find a sponsor thus far, and it is unlikely they’ll find a new one in the next 11 days.

Jane Doe is already 15 weeks pregnant. Texas does not allow abortions after 20 weeks. Every delay brings her closer to that limit – a limit I’m sure the government intends to force her past.

While two of the three judges on the Washington, D.C. appeals court ruled for HHS, Judge Patricia Millett dissented strongly from the decision. I urge you to read her full dissent, but the below excerpt captures just how vile and outrageous the behavior of HHS is.

“The government does not dispute—in fact, it has knowingly and deliberately chosen not to challenge—J.D.’s constitutional right to an abortion,” reads her dissent. “The government instead says that it can have its contractor keep J.D. in what the government calls ‘close’ custody—that is, more restrictive conditions than the contractor imposes on the non-pregnant minors in its care—because of the agency’s own supervening judgment that it would be in J.D.’s best interests to carry the pregnancy to term. If she wants an abortion, the government continues, she must surrender all legal claims to remain in the United States and return to the country of her abuse. That is wrong and that is unconstitutional.” (Emphasis added by me.)

In addition, as The Washington Post reports, abortion is illegal in Jane Doe’s home country – so that “offer” isn’t even a legitimate one.

Judge Millett further pointed out that the government’s refusal to “facilitate” Jane Doe’s abortion is “an immovable barrier to J.D.’s exercise of her constitutional right that inflicts irreparable injury without any justification offered for why the government can force her to continue the pregnancy until near the cusp of viability.”

The ACLU is helping to represent Jane Doe. They have first and foremost argued for an emergency injunction which would allow her to go to the clinic for an abortion. This is the first priority. But their second, further-reaching argument is that this “refusing to facilitate” policy is, in fact, unconstitutional.

There are a million furious things I could write about this case. The government’s behavior is outrageous, illegal, and cruel. It denies a fundamental right to the most vulnerable as part of a stupid, vicious crusade against women’s autonomy. It exploits and dehumanizes a teenager specifically because she is undocumented, and specifically because she is a woman.

However, Jane Doe herself has explained things better than I could. She signed a declaration of her own, which includes the below numbered points. This list is heartbreaking in its repetition and bluntness, so I’d only read it if you’re in an okay place.

  1. I am hopeful to obtain an abortion as soon as possible. I understand the next counseling appointment should have been October 12, with the abortion appointment on October 13. However, because I keep being delayed, the only appointments available to me are on October 18 and 19, 2017.
  2. Defendants have forced me to obtain counseling from a religiously affiliated crisis pregnancy center where I was forced to look at the sonogram.
  3. Defendants have been talking to me about my pregnancy – I feel like they are trying to coerce me to carry my pregnancy to term.
  4. Defendants told my mother about my pregnancy and are trying to force me to tell her as well.
  5. I do not want to be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against my will.
  6. I do not want to proceed in court using my real name because I fear retaliation because I am seeking an abortion. I do not want my family to know that I am seeking an abortion.

Jane Doe deserves to have all that she asks for here and more. She deserves to be treated like the human being that she is – and any government that would deny her that deserves only our disgust and our outrage.

(Via NPR, The Washington Post, CNN, and the ACLU; image via Shutterstock)

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