Right now, an undocumented young person is being held hostage in Texas where officials are preventing her from accessing the abortion she needs. Jane, who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity, is a minor facing a health crisis that was created and exacerbated by the government, through no fault of her own. Jane is pregnant and needs an abortion, but after crossing the US border, she was detained and held against her will by US immigration officials. With the support of Jane’s Due Process, an organization that helps young people navigate legal barriers to abortion care in Texas, Jane has already successfully navigated the complicated legal system and was granted a judicial bypass that will allow her to have an abortion in Texas, where minors seeking abortion are required to have parental support. Immigration officials are blatantly disregarding Jane’s right to an abortion and have not only prevented her from traveling to the clinic for her procedure, they’ve forced her to undergo additional medical procedures and unnecessary counseling meant to change her mind.
Simply put, Jane’s situation has a devastating effect on other undocumented people and young people seeking needed health care. When a young or undocumented person is seeking abortion care, or any other medical care, criminalization impedes trust and privacy between a patient and their health care provider. While everyone deserves access to the abortions they need, regardless of how they got pregnant, it’s worth noting that many girls like Jane became pregnant as the result of rape. According to research from Splinter (formerly Fusion), between 60 and 80% of women and girls are raped while crossing the border from Central America into the United States, a dangerous trek often made to escape atrocious conditions of abuse, torture, and violence in their home countries. On top of the violence Jane has already endured, state and federal officials are now adding even more violence by withholding medical care. We demand that Jane be immediately released to obtain the medical care she desperately needs. This isn’t the time to play politics. Jane needs an abortion now, today.
The National Network of Abortion Funds knows all too well, that autonomy of young people suffers when access to abortion is restricted. Parental consent laws like the one Jane encountered in Texas are so burdensome that they make abortion care even harder for young people to obtain than it is for adults seeking the same procedure. Funding data from the National Network of Abortion Funds shows that of people who received funding, fewer young people had access to birth control (61.8%) and more had become pregnant as a result of rape (16.7%) than their adult counterparts (41.6% and 7.0% respectively). The cost to obtain an abortion was significantly higher for adolescents than for adults due to barriers like delays in obtaining adequate funds or long-distance travel. This research, (currently submitted for publication), led by Dr. Gretchen Ely from the University Buffalo School of Social Work, confirms that young people obtaining abortions face more burdens than adults.
On top of the inexcusable actions by Texas and the federal government withholding access to the abortion the court has already given Jane permission to have, they’re forcing her to sit through religious-based counseling sessions designed to shame and stigmatize her. They even forced her to undergo an ultrasound from an unlicensed medical facility, a “crisis pregnancy center,” in an unequivocal assault on her body aimed to preventing her from getting the abortion she needs. When the government couldn’t stop Jane with onerous legal processes, they decided to hold her hostage, refusing to let her leave the shelter for her abortion even under the care of her guardian and attorney ad litem.
Jane deserves immediate access to the abortion she needs. Every day that she remains pregnant against her will, every day that she is prevented from exercising her bodily autonomy, is a crime committed against Jane. Our oppressive borders already dehumanize and criminalize people as a result of capitalist and imperialist governmental demands. That’s why immigration is a reproductive justice issue. Withholding access to abortion from someone because they are young, or because of their documentation status is a violation of our right to govern our bodies and our lives. Forcing imperialist ideas on the body of a young woman is an appalling and historic form of violence.
Jane’s Due Process is fighting to get Jane the abortion she needs, now. Legal director Susan Hays has this to say about Jane’s situation:
“The government is basically trying to argue that undocumented immigrants have zero rights, including the right to abortion. It pains me to have to say this—to remind the government and others—that undocumented immigrants are human beings with rights, including the right not to be subjected to gynecological exams against their will, including the right to access abortion. What the government is basically saying is that they do not care that unaccompanied immigrant minors have been sexually assaulted; they will be preached at, shamed, taken to unlicensed counselors, and not allowed access to abortion care. This is absolutely horrifying.”
You can read the full statement from Jane’s Due Process here.
Jane is not alone in her struggle to obtain an abortion as a young person. Stephanie Loraine, a We Testify abortion storyteller, was 17 and a survivor of child abuse when she went through Texas’ judicial bypass process herself:
“I began searching for my options as an underage pregnant person and discovered judicial bypass…. It was my safest option. Better yet, my only option. I called a hotline I found online for two days until I finally got a response. They gave me information for an attorney who would take my case, and a day later I was in her office. The attorney told me I needed to gather evidence showing the judge it would be unsafe if I told my parents I was having an abortion. As the aspiring lawyer I was, I took on the challenge and decided to go beyond what the attorney asked for and prove to the judge that his decision wouldn’t be made in vain. I brought my newly minted college transcript, wrote a five-page essay, and found the police reports showing my father’s arrest for felony child abuse against me the previous year and domestic violence reports made by my mother.”
Young people fight for what they need, whether or not they can entrust their parents or other adults with their health and well-being. Young people are capable of making decisions about their bodies, their families, and their pregnancies. Young people should never be held against their will or criminalized for seeking health care.
The National Network of Abortion Funds proudly supports the ACLU and Jane’s Due Process in this fight for Jane’s right to immediately access the health care she needs. We send love and support to Jane, and all the undocumented people, of all ages, who have had their rights taken away when governments exercise control over their bodies. We strongly oppose withholding access to abortion from anyone based on where they live, including their country of birth or origin. Our network of funds also opposes the practice of young people hostage against their will and criminalizing them for exercising rights that are more freely available to adults. We join those fighting for Jane in demanding that the state immediately grant access to the abortion she seeks, and in respecting her humanity and dignity as an individual. It’s time to stop using Jane as a political pawn.