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Undocumented Teen Wins Abortion Fight, But Thousands in Shelters Still Live Under Anti-Choice Policy

StoryOctober 26, 2017
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An undocumented teenager at the center of a lawsuit with the Trump administration over her right to have an abortion has finally obtained the procedure she wanted. The 17-year-old is detained in a refugee resettlement shelter and had the abortion on Wednesday, after a U.S. appeals court ruled in her favor. The teen is referred to in court documents as Jane Doe. The Trump administration spent a month trying to stop her from accessing an abortion. We get an update from her lawyers: Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, and Susan Hays, legal director of Jane’s Due Process, a legal referral service for minors facing unintended pregnancy in Texas.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: An undocumented teenager at the center of a lawsuit with the Trump administration over her right to have an abortion has finally obtained the procedure she wanted. The 17-year-old is detained in a refugee resettlement shelter and had the abortion on Wednesday, after a U.S. appeals court ruled in her favor. The teen is referred to in court documents as Jane Doe. The Trump administration spent a month trying to stop her from accessing an abortion.

Her lawyer says the staff at the refugee shelter in Brownsville, Texas, forced the girl to call her abusive parents to tell them about her pregnancy, despite the fact that her parents allegedly beat the girl’s older sister until she miscarried, for getting pregnant out of wedlock. The lawyer also says the staff retaliated against the girl after learning about her plans to have an abortion, limiting her time with other kids at the shelter and allegedly repeatedly asking her what she planned to name the baby.

In an interview with HBO’s Vice News Wednesday night, Jane Doe described when she decided to have an abortion.

JANE DOE: [translated] When I first arrived at the shelter, I decided to do it, because I don’t feel capable of being a mature woman or being strong or old enough to be able to take care of it. And I don’t feel sure about having a child.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Jane Doe also issued a statement via her guardian, saying, quote, “While the government provides for most of my needs at the shelter, they have not allowed me to leave to get an abortion. Instead, 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. I made my decision and that is between me and God. Through all of this, I have never changed my mind.”

AMY GOODMAN: The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jane Doe against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees facilities for unaccompanied and undocumented minors who enter the United States.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. In New York here, Jennifer Dalven is with us, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, one of the attorneys representing Jane Doe. And joining us from Las Vegas, Nevada, Susan Hays, legal director of Jane’s Due Process, a legal referral service for minors facing unintended pregnancy in Texas.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jennifer Dalven, let’s begin with you. Lay out the suit and what took place this week.

JENNIFER DALVEN: Well, as you said, Jane came here without her parents, looking for a better life. She was in a shelter, where she learned she was pregnant. From the very beginning, she said she wanted an abortion. With the help of lawyers from Jane’s Due Process, she went to the Texas court, and she got judicial permission to get an abortion.

But since then, every step of the way, the Trump administration has stood to block her from exercising her decision. Instead of taking her to her appointments, what they’ve done is taken her to a religious crisis pregnancy center, where folks tried to stop her, convince her not to have an abortion, forced her to look a sonograms. And they would not let her go to her procedure. For a month now, they’ve been—they were trying to stop her from getting the procedure she wanted.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what’s the law in Texas for others, people who are not undocumented? In other words, do people who are minors seeking an abortion face similar obstacles, or no?

JENNIFER DALVEN: They do. They do. Texas requires that teenagers get the consent of their parents. And most kids do that. But, unfortunately, we know that some young women can’t make—can’t go to their parents. And so, folks like the folks at Jane’s Due Process help young women like that go to court. And the Constitution requires you to be able to go to court and get a judicial waiver of that requirement.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how the courts played out.

JENNIFER DALVEN: The courts played out—so she got judicial permission. And then we went to court after court, and the government would not back down. At every step, the court said, “Yes, this is a constitutional right that she has.” But the government kept appealing and appealing, until we were finally able to get her the procedure she needed.

AMY GOODMAN: Susan Hays, describe who Jane Doe is—you know, obviously, not giving her name, but talk to us about a young, undocumented teenager in detention in Texas.

SUSAN HAYS: Jane is like hundreds of other girls who come up from Latin America seeking a better life. A significant percentage of them are sexually assaulted on the way. Jane’s Due Process has been working with them for many years now. Any time one of these Janes, as we call them, are in detention and choose to have an abortion, we help her, working with local lawyers, file on her judicial bypass and get that court order, who gives her not only the right to consent to her abortion, but also the right to do so without anyone notifying her parent or legal guardian that she is pregnant or has ever desired an abortion. And it was that first order that she got, all the way back on September 25th, that the Office of Refugee Resettlement ordered the shelter not to honor and to hold her hostage and not allow her to go to her abortion appointment back in September.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to ask you about the person who heads the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd. Could you tell us about him and how he figures in what’s happened in Jane Doe’s case?

SUSAN HAYS: The abrupt change of the practices of the Office of Refugee Resettlement go back to Scott Lloyd hitting that office sometime in March of this year. And he is using that office to inflict his personal religious beliefs on unaccompanied minors all across the country. And you simply cannot do that under the First Amendment. The government doesn’t get to pick a side in a religious fight. And an individual cannot constitutionally use government power and government money to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does he play in here? Talk about the significance of his position in the Trump administration.

SUSAN HAYS: The Office of Refugee [Resettlement] is a part of the Health and Human Services Department. It is not a position that’s subject to Senate confirmation. President Trump appointed Scott Lloyd to that position in late March. However, in the emails that ACLU has obtained through their litigation, his name shows up in early March as part of a new, what I’ll call a double-top-secret informal policy of no one gets an abortion in ORR care without Scott Lloyd’s permission. And the shelters, more importantly, were ordered not to do anything to help any minor who wanted an abortion take steps toward that, such as complying with state laws by seeking a judicial bypass order.

Scott Lloyd has also done things like fly to Texas to go to shelters to personally minister, talk to, cajole pregnant unaccompanied minors, and presumably on the government dime. It’s highly unusual for the head of an agency to act that way and be so personally involved in individual cases and personally directing individual cases to the outcome that he wants, not the outcome that is right for that Jane.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer, how common is this Jane?

JENNIFER DALVEN: Unfortunately, it’s all too common. As Susan said, when young women come to this country searching for a better life, they are often subject to sexual assault. There may be hundreds of pregnant young women every year. And so, although yesterday Jane was able to get her procedure, it’s incredibly important that people not think that this is over. This is Scott Lloyd’s policy, and it applies to all the Janes. And we’ll continue fighting until we get this policy knocked down.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, she has had—Jane Doe has had the abortion now. But you’ve said justice for Jane also means immigration relief. Could you explain what you think should happen?

JENNIFER DALVEN: Well, that’s exactly right. So, yesterday was a victory for Jane, but only in part. Jane is still in a government shelter, and so are, you know, thousands and thousands of other people in this country. And so, yesterday we breathed a small sigh of relief, but there is still tremendous work to be done, both on the access to reproductive healthcare and on the immigration side.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Susan Hays about how the George W. Bush administration changed who legally has custody of an unaccompanied minor, and what you understand the former secretary of health and human services, the now-disgraced Tom Price, has to do with that.

SUSAN HAYS: Well, back in the George W. Bush administration, the legal custody of these minors was held by the shelters. And that meant, under state judicial bypass laws, shelter staff could consent to an abortion. Back toward the end of his second administration, there was an incident in Virginia where some shelter staff did consent to an abortion in a shelter affiliated with the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, as you might expect, threw a fit, and the George W. Bush administration changed that designation of legal custody so that ORR itself has legal custody—that is, bureaucrats in Washington—instead of the social workers and staff on the ground in these shelters, who care for these children.

The net effect of that is kids in shelters have to go through the judicial bypass process, which is kind of hard to get to a courthouse and file a case when you’re in a shelter. You have to have the help of someone on the outside to do that. And I’ve done these cases for 17 years now. At the time, I remember really hating that policy as being unfair and a burden on these unaccompanied minors who choose abortion.

Flash-forward to now with Scott Lloyd, that very policy that George W. Bush put into place in 2008, Scott Lloyd is now violating, because it’s very specific that you must follow state law. Here, this Jane Doe got that judicial bypass order, with the help of Jane’s Due Process and her court-appointed attorney and guardian ad litems on the ground there in the Rio Grande Valley, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement defied that court order and ignored it—

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.

SUSAN HAYS: —thus violating their own policy, that goes back to 2008.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us. That’s Susan Hays, legal director of Jane’s Due Process. And also thank you to Jennifer Dalven of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

Nermeen Shaikh and Juan González will be speaking tonight at the Philadelphia Free Library, and Juan will be at Seattle on Friday night.

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