Jane Doe, a 17-year-old girl from Central America, learned she was nine weeks pregnant while in immigration detention. She decided that she wanted an abortion, a procedure that is illegal in her home country. The state of Texas, where Jane Doe’s immigration detention is located, is obligated to allow her the abortion. But public officials made every effort to ensure she would carry the pregnancy to term.
In Texas, abortion is banned at 20 weeks. Since Jane Doe learned about her pregnancy nine weeks in, the window of time for her to get an abortion was limited. The officials charged with taking care of Jane Doe picked up on this, and according to her lawyers, “held her hostage” for weeks, using every trick in the book to prevent her from getting an abortion. They forced her to get a sonogram, attend an anti-choice “crisis pregnancy center” and receive “counseling” focused on convincing her to carry the pregnancy to term. At 16 weeks pregnant, a judicial order finally ensured that Jane Doe got the abortion.
In their work to prevent the abortion, Texas lawyers were encouraged and validated by the Trump administration. Trump appointed Scott Lloyd, an anti-choice activist, as the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an office that oversees detention centers like the one where Jane Doe was held. Lloyd used his power as the office’s director to push anti-choice ideas onto the detainees who depended upon him. The Washington Post reported he stated that “an unborn child is a child in our care.” As soon as he was appointed, Lloyd began personally contacting pregnant women in his detention centers to talk them out of getting abortions. The Office of Refugee Resettlement also passed a measure that barred pregnant people from making any steps toward an abortion, including scheduling a doctor’s appointment, without permission from Lloyd.
Lloyd and his enablers weren’t alone in preventing pregnant people from receiving health care. Jane Doe’s case ended up at an appellate court, which ruled 6-3 that the Office of Refugee Resettlement couldn’t prevent Jane Doe from getting the abortion. While the Court ruled in Jane Doe’s favor, the three dissenters reveal that problematic ideas about abortion are entrenched at the highest levels of government. Dissenting Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the state has a “permissible interest in protecting fetal life” and “not facilitating abortion, so long as the government does not impose an undue burden on the abortion decision.” It’s clear that Judge Kavanaugh does not see Lloyd and the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s action as an “undue burden,” despite the fact that they actively prevented Jane Doe from getting an abortion. Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote that obliging the government to provide abortion services to refugees will cause “pregnant alien minors the world around” to flood into the US seeking abortion, a statement that ignores the immense difficulty that many minors face when migrating to the U.S. The Texas government has echoed these dissenting judges in their support of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, with Texas leading a group of eight State Attorneys General in filing a brief in support of the Office.
The willingness of state and federal officials to obstruct pregnant people from exercising their right to an abortion stems from the actions and attitudes of the Trump administration. Trump, who in 1999 characterized himself as “very pro-choice,” has become vocally anti-choice, presumably in order to appease his Republican colleagues and align his ideas with those of his Vice President, who is notoriously anti-choice. As governor of Indiana, his administration sentenced a woman, Purvi Patel, to 20 years in prison for “feticide and child neglect” after an unsuccessful abortion resulted in a stillbirth. Trump and Pence’s ideas regarding abortion embolden officials like Lloyd to harm and disempower pregnant people in their care. Thankfully, the Office of Refugee Resettlement couldn’t force Jane Doe to carry the pregnancy to term. But it is possible that other pregnant people under government care were forced give birth to babies they didn’t want and couldn’t care for. The Office and Refugee Resettlement’s inexcusable obstruction of abortion rights is the result of problematic attitudes embedded at the highest levels of government. The president and vice president, three appellate judges, eight State Attorneys General, and many others, worked together to bar Jane Doe and countless people like her from exercising their reproductive rights.