In early September, a 17-year-old pregnant teen sought to have a legal abortion in Texas. The girl, one of thousands of immigrant minors from Central America apprehended after entering the country illegally, was living in a federally funded shelter in Brownsville when a medical exam found that she was nine weeks pregnant.
When the Trump administration blocked her request, she sued, with the help of a court-appointed lawyer and the American Civil Liberties Union, and ultimately prevailed. Although Jane Doe, as she was known in court documents, was legally allowed to terminate her pregnancy on Oct. 25, her case is part of an alarming new assault on abortion rights for one of the most vulnerable populations: undocumented teenagers held in government custody.
In another recent case, a teen known as Jane Poe, who became pregnant as a result of rape, was allowed to get an abortion only after she went to court. A third young woman, known as Jane Roe, was found to be 19, not 17, when immigration officials received a birth certificate from her home country; she was transferred from a shelter for minors to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, and then freed — allowing her to pursue a legal abortion.
But it’s clear that the administration is girding for battle on a number of fronts. The director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement — the federal agency under the US Department of Health and Human Services in charge of looking after unaccompanied minors — has reportedly reached out to some of these pregnant teens personally to try to convince them not to have abortions. (Not surprisingly, the federal official involved is not only underprepared and inexperienced for the role, but is also reported to be a fierce opponent of abortion.)
For now, government lawyers try to get around the constitutional questions by suggesting ludicrous and burdensome alternatives: that pregnant immigrants can obtain abortions by going back to their home countries or by locating a relative or a family friend to whom they can be released from federal care.
But the US Supreme Court has reaffirmed a woman’s constitutional right to access legal abortion services without unnecessary requirements. And as the federal judge in the Jane Doe case writes: “Surely the mere act of entry into the United States without documentation does not mean that an immigrant’s body is no longer her or his own. Nor can the sanction for unlawful entry be forcing a child to have a baby.”
Immigrants in US custody would not be denied other essential medical treatment — even if they’ve crossed the border illegally. The protections for these young women, based in the US Constitution and affirmed by the nation’s highest court, are clear and unequivocal, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to intensify its war on immigrants, and on reproductive rights.