A 17-year-old Central American girl, given the alias of Jane Doe in court filings, was apprehended around two months ago for attempting to cross the U.S.–Mexico border. She was subsequently brought to a shelter in South Texas, where she reportedly found out she was pregnant. Adamant in her decision to get an abortion, she went to court in order to receive permission from a judge, which was given to her.
Despite this, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, with lifelong anti-abortion activist E. Scott Lloyd (appointed by President Trump) as the head, decided to step in. Over the next few weeks, according to Doe’s lawyers, she was taken to an anti-abortion pregnancy center and forced to view an ultrasound, as well as to call her reportedly abusive mother to tell her about the pregnancy. The lead attorney on Doe’s case, Brigitte Amiri of the ACLU, describes the girl’s current state (placed under constant one-on-one supervision and banned from any physical activity) as “holding her hostage.”
“This is the most insane case I’ve ever worked on in my career,” she says. “The amount of opposition to this young woman’s abortion is just astounding. Every step of the way, I think at some point justice will prevail and there will be some sense from the federal government that the rule of law prohibits what they’re doing, but they keep taking it to the next level.”
The D.C. appeals court panel has declined the immediate permission for this abortion, electing instead to give the Department of Health and Human Services 11 days in order to find a private sponsor who will take custody of the girl. But time is running out for the teen, who is 15 weeks pregnant. Texas bars most abortions after 20 weeks.
Court filings for the case indicate that The Department of Health and Human Services is trying to “promote birth and fetal life.” The current government has stated it has a policy of “refusing to facilitate” abortions for undocumented minors, contrasting with the previous policy of the Obama administration. Under Lloyd and the ORR, shelters are banned from providing pregnant unaccompanied minors (approximately 60% of whom have been raped) with abortions in favor of “life-affirming options counseling.”
According to officials, the 17-year-old’s options are to return to her home country and seek an abortion there or to find a sponsor in the United States. However, it was addressed in court Friday that the girl’s native country does not allow abortion. In addition to this, two potential sponsors have fallen through already and the process of background checks can take months.
The panel also acknowledged in its decision that the teenager “possesses a constitutional right to obtain an abortion in the United States.”
We’re not putting an obstacle in her path,” said Catherine H. Dorsey, the lawyer representing HHS in the case, to the judges. “We’re declining to facilitate an abortion. Even if she has that right, we don’t have to facilitate it.”
Many people have expressed dissent to this decision. “There are no winners in cases like these. But there sure are losers,” Judge Patricia A. Millet wrote. “Forcing her to continue an unwanted pregnancy just in the hopes of finding a sponsor that has not been found in the past six weeks sacrifices J.D.’s constitutional liberty, autonomy and personal dignity for no justifiable governmental reason.”
Millet also mentioned that forcing Doe to return home would clash with her legal right to seek asylum in the U.S., as she has said her parents were abusive.
In spite of all of the controversy, Rochelle Garza (Doe’s court-appointed guardian) has stated that the girl remains “unwavering in her decision to terminate the pregnancy despite the emotional abuse that she is enduring.”
The significance of this particular case is strong enough that Chief Judge Merrick Garland agreed to live-stream audio of the oral argument for the first time in 16 years.