J.D. — SHORT FOR JANE DOE — is a 17-year-old immigrant living in a Texas shelter for undocumented minors. She is also pregnant and seeking an abortion. The federal government refuses to allow her to end her pregnancy.
Under the directorship of E. Scott Lloyd, an antiabortion activist appointed by President Trump to lead the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, ORR began preventing federally funded shelters from "facilitat[ing]" access to abortion services unless Mr. Lloyd approved. Instead, shelters for undocumented minors may support only "pregnancy services and life- affirming options counseling." Mr. Lloyd has personally reached out to several pregnant teenagers to counsel them against seeking abortions, reportedly viewing himself as a "foster father."
J.D. received a Texas judge's approval to receive an abortion in the absence of consent from her parents, who remain in her home country and who she says abused her. Yet the government is preventing her from leaving the shelter to receive the procedure — what the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing J.D., describes as "holding her hostage." J.D. has instead been forced to visit a religiously affiliated crisis pregnancy center and view a sonogram of the fetus. ORR has also contacted her mother to inform her of J.D.'s pregnancy against the daughter's will.
"I feel like they are trying to coerce me to carry my pregnancy to term," J.D. wrote in a court filing. After the government refused to allow J.D. to end her pregnancy, a federal judge temporarily barred ORR from restraining her further. But on Friday, an appeals court gave ORR until Oct. 31 to release J.D. into the care of a government-approved sponsor. The sponsor could then allow J.D. to obtain the procedure, letting the government off the hook.
But J.D. is already 15 weeks pregnant — and Texas bans most abortions at 20 weeks. There's no guarantee that ORR will be able to find an appropriate sponsor for her before the end of the month, which means that the case could drag on even longer. The ACLU is now pushing for the full appeals court to force the government's hand before the clock runs out.
Legally, the government is without a leg to stand on. It argues that J.D. could simply leave the United States and return to her home country, yet it has also conceded that J.D.'s country doesn't allow abortion. It claims that it doesn't want to "facilitate" J.D.'s abortion, but J.D.'s court-appointed guardians are ready to transport her to the clinic and pay for the procedure. Under Roe v. Wade, J.D. has a constitutional right to an abortion. The only thing ORR needs to do is get out of the way.
Mr. Lloyd's behavior toward J.D. is not just unconstitutional. It is also a grotesque abuse of government power over a vulnerable young woman far from her home. The government should not need a court order to do what is obviously right. It should allow J.D. access to the medical care to which she is legally entitled, immediately.