Jane Doe is a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant detained in Texas who is 15 weeks pregnant and is seeking an abortion. The Constitution grants her that right, but the Trump administration is determined to subvert it as part of its war on women’s reproductive rights.
Late Friday, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the teenager must be allowed to have an abortion, but it gave the federal government until Oct. 31 to find her a sponsor so that the government itself does not have to arrange for the procedure. The ruling came hours after the court heard the case, in which the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement said that if it released her to see a doctor it would “facilitate” an abortion, an action it said would contradict its interest in “promoting child birth and fetal life.” The government argued that barring an abortion doesn’t place an “undue burden” on her rights because she can always go home to get one — to a Central American country that criminalizes abortion and to parents who are abusive.
This argument is as weak as it is ideologically brazen.
It doesn’t seem to matter to the government that adult women in detention by law have access to abortion, or that this teenager has followed Texas law and obtained a waiver from a state court allowing her to get an abortion without her parents’ consent. And while the Office of Refugee Resettlement refuses to let employees at the shelter where she is being held take her to get an abortion, it ordered them to bring her to a “crisis pregnancy center” with the goal of talking her out of the procedure.
Friday’s ruling lets the government continue to shirk the law until it finds a sponsor. The American Civil Liberties Union was weighing an appeal, potentially to the Supreme Court. Not only the federal government is obstructing Jane Doe’s path; Texas lawmakers have created a hostile environment for reproductive rights. The Supreme Court last year struck down one of the harshest of those laws, but Texas still requires women seeking abortions to first undergo mandatory counseling and an ultrasound, both of which the teenager has done. And the state still bans almost all abortions after 20 weeks, leaving her with about a month before she passes the point at which she will be forced to give birth.
That appears to be the government’s goal, and as time passes, E. Scott Lloyd, the anti-abortion crusader who heads the refugee office, comes closer to meeting it. In a court filing, the A.C.L.U. said Mr. Lloyd had in the past flown to an immigrant detention center to persuade another unaccompanied minor to carry her pregnancy to term. This time he wants the courts to enforce his will.
To all who wondered why religious conservatives struck a Faustian bargain with a morally compromised candidate, this case provides one answer. Anti-abortion advocates, from Vice President Mike Pence on down, find President Trump useful for converting their beliefs into policy.
At the health department, Teresa Manning, a former analyst with the conservative Family Research Council who opposes abortion and most forms of contraception, is deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, in charge of the Title X program. The program provides family planning funding for four million poor or uninsured Americans. Charmaine Yoest, former president for Americans United for Life, is the department’s assistant secretary of public affairs. Matthew Bowman, who worked for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian anti-abortion legal advocacy group, is now a lawyer at the department, and a reported architect of new Obamacare rules making it easier for some companies to claim religious or moral exemptions to requirements that they cover the cost of birth control. Katy Talento, an abortion foe who wrote an article beginning, “Is chemical birth control causing miscarriages of already-conceived children? What about breaking your uterus for good?” is now a health policy adviser on the White House Domestic Policy Council.