When Abortion Meets Immigration: How I Help The Undocumented Obtain An Abortion
In recent years, there has been an uptick of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. These young people take on this punishing journey in hopes of a safer life in the states, so once they present themselves at an official U.S. port of entry, they are placed in a temporary shelter.
The federal government is legally required to provide housing, food, and medical care to these unaccompanied minors, as per a legal decision called the Flores Agreement. However, providing contraception and abortion care as required was one of the first things to go as the current Administration began to disregard Flores, and now recent news reports indicate young people are being denied basic necessities as well.
During the intake process, all minors undergo a medical exam that includes a pregnancy test and then options counseling is supposed to be done with the pregnant minors.
Due to former shelter policies, mostly at shelters with religious affiliations, they were not always able to provide, refer, or in any way facilitate access to contraceptives and abortion services. We also know that young people who want to continue their pregnancy are not provided the trauma-informed care they need, and often receive care from a doctor who does not speak their language.
In 2017, the #JusticeForJane campaign swept the country as the Trump Administration attempted to block a 17-year-old Central American immigrant minor, referred to as “Jane Doe” for anonymity, from obtaining an abortion in Texas.
Jane had already gotten a judicial bypass to have the abortion without parental consent with the help of Jane’s Due Process (JDP), a Texas non-profit that provides legal representation and practical support for pregnant minors. The federal government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) refused to allow her to use the bypass and forced her to go to a crisis pregnancy center for anti-abortion, religious-based counseling. They were also set on not transporting her to the abortion clinic, and refused to release her to her court-assigned attorney and guardian, stating that it would be facilitating abortion. The shelter claimed these orders were coming from ORR, contrary to the stated policies around abortion on their website and in the Flores settlement. In 2008, George W. Bush issued a policy that allowed “heightened involvement” from ORR in crucial cases like abortion, but in 2017, that policy was reinterpreted to prohibit any type of facilitation for an unaccompanied minor to access abortion care. Jane Doe’s judicial bypass lawyers and JDP contacted the ACLU, who then filed a lawsuit against the federal government regarding ORR’s new, ad hoc policy that prohibited facilitating abortion for unaccompanied minors, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. Jane was adamant that she wanted an abortion, and after a month of obstruction by the Trump Administration, she was finally able to get it. The ACLU sought class certification for her case, meaning that she could be a representative of all unaccompanied minors in a similar situation. As of last month, she won: a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled that the Trump Administration cannot block unaccompanied minors in federal custody from getting an abortion.
While having the federal government block access to an abortion clinic is an unusual barrier, all of our clients face barriers to abortion access.
This starts with the parental consent law that requires young people who cannot get parental consent for an abortion to go in front of a judge for permission to obtain an abortion. Jane’s Due Process was founded in 2001 when the first parental involvement law for a minor seeking an abortion in Texas went into effect. Since its founding, the organization has supported thousands of young people in Texas to obtain an abortion and access birth control without parental involvement, and has provided information about reproductive and sexual health decision-making to young people and those who support them across the state. The reasons for not notifying a parent about these reproductive health decisions vary–from knowing that parents will force them to give birth to fear of abuse to parents not being a part of that person’s life. Regardless of the reason, my role is to make sure that every person who calls us seeking an abortion can obtain one, even with the socioeconomic barriers (transportation, money, lack of communication platforms, support system, etc.) that are present.
In the cases of ORR Janes, shelters are required to reach out to me as soon as the unaccompanied minor mentions that she is interested in terminating her pregnancy.
At that point, I speak with the minor to get a sense of her situation, and then reach out to clinics and local attorneys to set her appointments. This process is usually strenuous due to most ORR shelters being in the southern part of Texas, which only has one abortion clinic (procedures up to 17 weeks) and limited doctor availability. Once an attorney meets with the minor, the bypass application gets filed and a hearing date is set. Between these dates, I am in constant communication with Jane to prep for her hearing. She then goes before a judge to prove that obtaining an abortion is in her best interest or that she’s mature enough to make the decision to terminate. Once the bypass gets approved, I reach out to the clinic to notify and set her appointments. Then, I reach out to abortion funds to cover her abortion costs and lastly, confirm with the shelter that transportation is set. In the rare case I receive pushback, I reach out to our legal counsel and the ACLU for support in clarifying policies and reiterating the constitutional rights that unaccompanied minors have regarding abortion care.
It is important to remember that when a young person becomes pregnant within a conservative or capitalist state that never provided the appropriate sex education in the first place, it is not the young person’s fault. Abortion is a constitutional right, no matter your immigration status, and the organization I work with continues fighting to make sure each young person’s right to an abortion is protected and accessible.
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