Trump appointees are preventing raped, undocumented minors from obtaining abortions
A federal judge ruled Monday that two undocumented young women being held in government-run shelters must be able to access abortions. Now the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the two 17-year-olds as well as a third undocumented young woman who sought an abortion in October, is seeking to challenge the policy that’s landed them in court in the first place. Citing safety and privacy concerns, the ACLU declined to disclose the women’s countries of origin or where they are currently being held.
The ACLU case underlines the Trump administration’s aggressive efforts to chip away at the right to choose, a battle being led in no small part by his hardline pro-life political appointees. It is also yet another administration effort to undermine the humanity of refugees, who have fled war or persecution and violence in their home countries.
The policy being challenged by the ACLU has been in force within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) since March, and prohibits federally funded shelters from taking “any action that facilitates” an abortion for an unaccompanied minor without the express permission of ORR’s director. The two young women, referred to as Jane Roe and Jane Poe, traveled to the United States from Central America and arrived as unaccompanied minors. They were about 10 and 22 weeks pregnant at the time the suit was filed. Their case follows an October legal battle, also fought by the ACLU, to secure an abortion for an unaccompanied minor referred to as Jane Doe.
The policy was put into place by ORR Director Scott Lloyd, a Trump appointee whom the New York Times editorial board recently referred to as an “anti-abortion crusader.” Lloyd has a long record when it comes to opposing abortion rights, including co-founding the pro-life, Virgina-based organization WitnessWorks Foundation for a Culture of Life and drafting anti-choice health care regulations during George W. Bush’s administration.
According to Amnesty International, about 60 percent of girl and women refugees crossing into the U.S. from Central America are rape survivors, a fact that Lloyd said he “wasn’t aware” of when questioned by the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security in October. Some groups say the number of women refugees raped is even higher—as high as 80 percent.
Government documents released by the court on Thursday reveal that Jane Poe had become pregnant after being sexually assaulted, and threatened to harm herself if she did not obtain an abortion.
“[T]he government has argued that merely allowing the women to physically leave the facility would amount to facilitating their abortions.”
“I am mindful that abortion is offered by some as a solution to a rape,” Lloyd wrote in an internal memo, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I disagree. To decline to assist in an abortion here is to decline to participate in violence against an innocent life.”
The legal battle between the ACLU and the Justice Department pits two Supreme Court precedents against each other: Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which prohibits the government from “placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus,” and a second set of successfully argued opposing cases, which relieve the government of the responsibility of taking affirmative steps to enable a woman’s access to abortion, according to Think Progress.
In the cases of all three young women, Jane Doe, Jane Poe and Jane Roe, the government has argued that merely allowing the women to physically leave the facility would amount to facilitating their abortions, even though no one is asking the government to transport the women to clinics or to pay for their abortions. The Justice Department, led in part by Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, has asserted in court documents that if the young women want to get abortions they can simply opt to be deported. Francisco has ties to the conservative Christian legal advocacy group the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In both the October Jane Doe lawsuit, and the December Jane Roe and Poe case, the district court ruled in favor of the young women, saying that the government cannot prevent them from leaving their facilities in order to end their pregnancies. The Jane Doe ruling was also reaffirmed by an appellate court. All three women ultimately received abortions.
The ACLU has filed motions to continue pursuing its case as a class action, in hopes of challenging the ORR policy, which, in the ACLU’s view, ensures that “all pregnant minors in their custody who desire abortions continue their pregnancies against their will.”
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