No Forced Childbirth for Undocumented Immigrant Teen in Federal Custody

This was a simple choice: Compel the girl to give birth or let her get an abortion. The fact that she is undocumented doesn't change that reality.


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In April, the Trump administration took a stand against the brutal methods used to enforce China's one-child policy. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced China for "acts of violence" against pregnant women, including "coerced sterilizations and forced abortions," and praised the president for cutting off funds for U.N. family planning efforts.

This administration does not try to force pregnant women to have abortions. Just the opposite: It tries to forces pregnant women to have babies. And its methods bear an uncanny resemblance to those employed by the Chinese government.

The evidence is on view in the case of an unaccompanied 17-year-old from Central America who was detained after entering the country illegally in September. On Wednesday morning, after a furious legal battle, she got an abortion. But that outcome came only after weeks of efforts by the administration to prevent her from doing so.

She has been held in a federally funded shelter since she was picked up. After discovering her pregnancy, she went through the process required under Texas law for a minor to get an abortion.

A state court ruled she was "mature and sufficiently informed" to decide for herself. The Supreme Court has ruled that the constitutional right to privacy protects the right to abortion. Given those two realities, the case should have been closed.

But the administration doesn't like to be constrained by laws or the Constitution. It preferred that "Jane Doe," whose identity is protected, carry her pregnancy to term, and it did all it could to make her comply.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement sent her to an anti-abortion "pregnancy crisis center," where she was urged to change her mind. It told her mother about the pregnancy even though the girl said her parents had severely abused her.

The government refused to let her leave the shelter to get an abortion—though it offered to let her leave for medical treatment if she agreed to give birth. At each stage, it found ways to block her access.

It may be argued that because the teenager is here without authorization, the Constitution doesn't apply to her. But the Supreme Court has never taken such a position. It has ruled that even undocumented immigrants enjoy constitutional protection, including "due process of law."

The Justice Department said that because she is a minor and here illegally, it is entitled to impose its own preferences on her. If she wanted to have an abortion, it said, she had the option of returning to her home country—though she said that doing so would expose her to more abuse.

The district judge ruled in her favor, and on Tuesday, an appeals court agreed. In her opinion, Judge Patricia Millett concluded that Doe, "like other minors in the United States who satisfy state-approved procedures, is entitled under binding Supreme Court precedent to choose to terminate her pregnancy."

The administration said it should not be required to "facilitate" a procedure it finds abhorrent. But that was a bogus claim. The girl was not asking the government to pay for the operation, provide a doctor, or transport her to the clinic. The only thing her lawyers asked of the government was "to stop blocking the door."

But the facilitation argument wouldn't stand up regardless. If she were an adult, Doe would be in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which permits detainees to get abortions. If she were in federal prison, she would be allowed to get an abortion.

Doe asked for far less—and the Trump administration tried to deny her even that. Absent this court ruling, she'd have been confined and required to go to term, even though continuing her pregnancy presented much greater risks to her health than ending it.

This was a simple choice: Compel the girl to give birth or let her get an abortion. The fact that she is undocumented doesn't change that reality. As Judge Millett wrote, "Surely the mere act of entry into the United States without documentation does not mean that an immigrant's body is no longer her or his own. Nor can the sanction for unlawful entry be forcing a child to have a baby."

Forcibly commandeering someone's uterus to advance the government's purposes may be standard procedure in China, but not in America. In both places, the issue is not whether any pregnant female should have a baby or get an abortion. It's who should decide.