The Liberator

Issue 6 staff stance: New frontlines in the fight to deny women access to abortion

Eva Strelitz-Block, Commentary Editor

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A new frontline is emerging on the battle to (re)institutionalize patriarchy and control and to disempower women: the bodies of undocumented immigrant girls. Under President Trump’s leadership, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is responsible for paying for and providing care and shelter to unaccompanied minors detained at the border, is denying pregnant minors access to abortion care. Moreover, Scott Lloyd, Trump’s Director of ORR, is signaling interest in utilizing so-called “abortion reversals,” an unproven method for disrupting medical abortions in progress. In the current climate, undocumented girls are among the most powerless of all detained immigrants. The calculus seems to go something like this according to the Trump Administration: undocumented person + detained + girl x pregnant = person with zero autonomy.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that this revving of the machinery of state-sanctioned fundamentalism and its emphasis on controlling these girls’ bodies, is not only cruel, but a giant red flag. As we debate the extent to which this constituency deserves access to a currently constitutionally guaranteed health care service, we are slowly and surely normalizing and reinvigorating patriarchy. This has more than a few uncomfortable data points in common with the dystopian landscape painted by Margaret Atwood’s novel (and Hulu’s hit series) The Handmaids Tale.

We at The Liberator recognize this incoming tide of extremism.
To recap: the ORR oversees the treatment and care of undocumented minors in federal custody, which includes providing them healthcare. The Trump administration is refusing to “facilitate” abortion procedures for detained teenagers on the grounds that teens have the “choice” to return to their homes if they want an abortion. They are referred, instead, to so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are renowned for being light on accurate medical information and heavy on anti-abortion Christian ideology. This provides them no choice at all.
Case in point: Jane Doe’s situation.

This past fall, a 17 year old unaccompanied minor living in a federally-funded shelter in Brownsville, Texas, named Jane Doe in legal proceedings, pregnant as a result of rape, was one of several detained immigrants to request access to an abortion. The ORR denied her request and the legal challenge mounted on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union highlights the particular vulnerabilities of immigrant girls, the Administration’s increasingly conservative political sensibilities with respect to abortion, and our emerging recognition of the connectedness between the struggles on behalf of agency for both women and immigrants. Jane Doe’s case forces us to reckon with the fact that sexism and xenophobia have to be understood together to be understood at all.

What is important about Jane’s story is not whether or not she, as a minor, had the right to an abortion. That question has already been asked and answered in the 1979 Supreme Court case Bellotti v. Baird. Girls under the age of 18 do have rights to access abortion, and Jane had already obtained a judicial waiver to get an abortion in Texas.
At stake is the egregious and blatant manner in which Jane’s human rights, not to mention her constitutionally protected rights to abortion and privacy, were ignored and circumvented in service of an agenda that articulates explicitly that women’s bodies ought to be subject to state control.

Here, the Trump Administration is dangerously on-trend.
Just this year, Kevin Williamson was hired as a columnist at the Atlantic despite having argued that women who get abortions should probably be executed. That he was eventually fired is beside the point. The stunner is that his advocacy for executing women who have had abortions (that is, one-quarter of all women over their lifetime) was not disqualifying.

Also recently, a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Idaho, Bob Nonini, as well as legislation out of Idaho and Ohio, has similarly advocated for not just limiting access to abortion, but criminalizing both the women who have them and the health care providers who help them.
States are punishing women, and forcibly asserting their right to control women’s bodies in service of religious principles. This is no longer just the stuff of literary nightmares: it’s the stuff of policy debates.

And it is already happening.

First, Jane Doe was compelled to undergo an ultrasound following her request to the ORR for an abortion. Then, her mother was contacted and her pregnancy was disclosed without her consent even though she had affirmed that she feared for her life if her family found out she was pregnant and planning to have an abortion.

In late March, Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan declared the ORR’s actions in the case of Jane Doe to be unconstitutional. She issued a ruling prohibiting the government from preventing detained immigrants from accessing abortions. Judge Chutkan’s ruling also allows the case to continue as a class-action suit on behalf of any and all teenagers who have been denied the right to access an abortion while in federal custody. Her ruling makes clear that the federal government not only has a responsibility to provide access to abortion services to detained immigrants, but is also accountable for their treatment in custody.

While Jane Doe ultimately had an abortion, this battle is far from over. It is uncertain how many other Jane Does are out there – but their numbers are surely rising as Trump once again ratchets up his anti-immigrant rallying cry. The first week of April brought news of Trump’s order to mobilize National Guard troops to the Mexican border despite the fact that illegal border crossings are at a historic low. This move is likely to further constrain efforts to ensure every Jane Does’ rights are upheld.

We must recognize that in some very real ways, we are all Jane Doe. Just as her medical needs, as well as her personal hopes and dreams, were overridden in service of a patriarchal vision of the role of the state, so could ours be. If the bodies of immigrant girls are the new front line of this battle, then we at the Liberator call on young people’s voices to unmask and resist the rise of this new fundamentalism that is co-opting the concept of life and exploiting the plights of people in the most perilous circumstances.

We want freedom and democracy and this is not what they look like.

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Issue 6 staff stance: New frontlines in the fight to deny women access to abortion