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Vol. 81/No. 42      November 13, 2017


Immigrant teen wins fight over right to an abortion

“This is my life, my decision,” said “Jane Doe” — a 17-year-old immigrant from Central America who crossed the border into Texas in early September — after she was finally allowed to have an abortion following a monthlong fight against the U.S. government. “Through all of this I have never changed my mind.”

The teen’s courage and determination in face of confinement, harassment and intimidation and a de facto lockup have brought to light the bullying that young women in her situation are subjected to from government agencies. And her fight is a stark illustration of the avalanche of restrictions all women face in the U.S. when they choose to have an abortion.

She was apprehended and placed in a shelter as an unaccompanied underage immigrant under supervision of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. During a routine medical exam she found out she was pregnant, and immediately decided she wanted an abortion.

She complied with all of Texas’ onerous abortion laws, including mandatory anti-abortion “counseling” and ultrasound examination of her “baby.” Determined to make her own decision, she was able to get the assistance of Jane’s Due Process, a group that assists women in her situation, and the American Civil Liberties Union. She took the government agency to court, arguing that she should not be stopped by the fact she couldn’t get parental consent. On Sept. 25 the state court ordered the shelter to take her to a nearby clinic to have the abortion.

The government defied the order, keeping her locked up. A federal judge on Oct. 19 again ordered the government to release Doe, saying her lawyers could take her to the clinic. Government officials immediately appealed and a federal appeals court put the judge’s release order on hold. After a court hearing, the judge gave the government until Oct. 31 to find a custodian for Doe.

Texas bans almost all abortions after 20 weeks, so the clock was ticking as the government kept stalling. Instead of heeding the court order and her wishes, federal officials tried to break her, to get her to back off from her decision.

“They made me see a doctor that tried to convince me not to abort and to look at sonograms. People I don’t even know are trying to make me change my mind,” Doe said in her Oct. 25 statement.

Officials argued in court that the government has a “legitimate interest in promoting childbirth and protecting the life of an unborn child,” and that since the teenager was in the agency’s custody, she was subject to its political leanings.

An agency spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal Oct. 19 that Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, has repeatedly called minors to talk them out of having an abortion, arguing that by law he is their “foster father,” and has the right to tell them what they should do.

Jane Doe didn’t agree. “No one should be shamed for making the right decision for themselves,” she said in her public statement. “I would not tell any other girl in my situation what they should do. That decision is hers and hers alone.”

The government says if Doe or other young women in her situation don’t like the pressure to do what the agency thinks is best, they can go back where they came from. For Jane Doe, that’s a country that criminalizes abortion.

Finally, on Oct. 24 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the government to allow Doe to do as she chose. The following day she had the procedure.

States restrict abortion rights
Since the day the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, there has been a relentless campaign to chip away at those rights. State governments have enacted more than 1,100 restrictions, making it more difficult for women to make and act on their own decision. This year alone, almost 1,400 new legal proposals to further restrict access to an abortion have been introduced in legislatures across the country, and 57 enacted. While two state governments had a 20-week limit on virtually all abortions at the beginning of 2016, this has increased to 19 states today.

These attacks have “been made easier by the character and content of the 1973 court ruling,” Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, writes in The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People. “Roe v. Wade was not based on a woman’s right ‘to equal protection of the laws,’ guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, but on medical criteria instead. During the first three months (‘trimester’), the court ruled, the decision to terminate a pregnancy ‘must be left to the medical judgment of a pregnant woman’s attending physician’ (not to the woman herself, but to a doctor!).

“At the same time, the court allowed state governments to ban most abortions after ‘viability,’” Barnes wrote, “something that medical advances inevitably make earlier in the pregnancy.”  
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