Time is running out for Jane Doe, an unaccompanied, undocumented minor who only has a few weeks to obtain an abortion before she becomes 20 weeks, at which point Texas law bans the procedure.
Doe, an unaccompanied minor in Texas, was originally granted legal permission to bypass the state’s parental consent laws and obtain an abortion. She was blocked, however, by HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, who took her to a religious crisis pregnancy center instead. On Wednesday, federal judge Tanya Chutkan granted the ACLU’s request for a temporary injuction against the federal government, requiring that Doe be allowed to obtain an abortion. The DOJ filed an appeal and on Friday argued that the government has an “interest in promoting fetal life and childbirth over abortion”and the minor does not face an undue burden because, as a refugee, she could go to her home country. As Slate concludes in its analysis of the DOJ’s position, “This argument is merely another way of stating that women like Doe have no right to an abortion in the United States.”
A federal appeals court delayed her abortion on Friday, ruling that Doe must first try to find a guardian by the end of the month. On Sunday night the ACLU appealed the decision and wrote in a petition:“Every additional day she must remain pregnant against her will places a severe strain on J.D., both physically and emotionally. Every additional week the government delays her abortion increases the risks associated with the procedure. In a matter of weeks, J.D. will no longer be able to get an abortion at all, and the government will have forced J.D. to have a child against her will.”
The Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Refugee Resettlement has repeatedly discouraged unaccompanied refugee minors from accessing abortions. The ACLU, which is fighting the administration in court, has deemed the action unconstitutional.
The Obama administration’s treatment of vulnerable women like Doe was also inadequate. Last June, the ACLU, including its affiliates in Northern and Southern California, filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration for funding organizations that refuse to offer reproductive care—like access to contraception or abortion—to vulnerable minors on religious grounds. (When it learned that HHS had taken Doe to visit a crisis pregnancy center in Texas, the ACLU filed a motion to add Doe as a plaintiff in the California case—the judge denied the request, but ruled that the government had “no justification for restricting [J.D.]’s access.”) But under Trump, and more specifically, under HHS and ORR director Scott Lloyd, the situation has worsened. (A draft of the HHS’s strategic plan, released this month, declares that life begins at conception).
Emails released in discovery by the ACLU show that Lloyd, who has no refugee resettlement experience but very strong anti-choice views (and believes that “Contraceptives are the cause of abortion”), show an aggressive push by the ORR to dissuade girls from obtaining abortions. Just before Scott officially took over as ORR head, in an email exchange between acting director Ken Tota and other senior management, Scott refers to the fetus by saying, an “unborn child is a child in our care.” In a March email exchange between Lloyd senior management about guidelines, Lloyd clarifies that “Grantees should not be supporting abortion services pre or post release; only pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling”:
In March, Lloyd and two other government officials sent out an internal memo that summarized three cases in which facilities that held unaccompanied minors had arranged for abortions, accusing them of doing so without ORR permission in violation of the 2008 policy. Two of the minors whose cases are summarized in the memo, which was shared with HuffPost, said they had been raped, but in both instances the officials casted doubt on their stories, writing that the 17-year-olds had initially said their pregnancy resulted from consensual sex.
The ORR also announced in March that federally funded shelters were prohibited from taking “any action that facilitates” abortion for minors without Lloyd’s explicit “direction and approval,” including “scheduling appointments, transportation, or other arrangement.”
In another email titled “Heads up: UC requesting pregnancy termination,” he told senior management that he had personally spoken to a pregnant girl and then confirmed “they were going to a CPC site”—a crisis pregnancy center, which often lie to women and girls about their reproductive health and rights. (The ACLU’s lawsuit claims that Scott “has personally contacted one or more unaccompanied immigrant minors who was pregnant and seeking abortion, and discussed with them their decision to have an abortion.”)
Of ORR’s treatment of Doe, ACLU lawyer Brigitte Amiri told the New York Times, “They’re holding her hostage,” and added: “This is the most insane case I’ve ever worked on in my career.”