By Eden Lumerman
In September 2017, an undocumented teen immigrant from Central America who was held in a federally contracted shelter in Texas, discovered she was pregnant. She decided to get an abortion, secured a permission from a Texas judge, and raised the funds for the procedure. However, federal officials intervened and would not allow her to leave the federal “shelter” to the abortion clinic. Instead, she was sent to receive pro-life counseling. Jane Doe (her name in the legal papers) is one of many undocumented minors who have been subjected to the attempts of the Trump administration to make abortion unattainable for undocumented teens. According to VICE News, since October 2017 “four teens have accused the administration of blocking them from getting abortions while they were in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement” (Sherman, 2018). In an unprecedented manner of state intervention in the lives, privacy, and bodily integrity of undocumented immigrants, the ORR has both attempted to prevent the teens from starting an abortion process within a safe time-frame, and attempted to reverse a medication abortion by delaying the pregnant teens from taking their second pill of the procedure. The ORR even suggested a new experimental method of reversing abortion: injecting the pregnant woman with the hormone Progesterone. Scott Lloyd, the director of ORR and a staunch anti-abortion activist, has described abortion as “violence that has the ultimate destruction of another human being as its goal.”
This case raises a few important questions: Since when does the US government care about the unborn children of undocumented immigrants? Why target undocumented minors? Why does the government suggest experimenting dubious medical procedures on the bodies of Brown, poor, underage pregnant women? This new policy issued by the ORR is more than Lloyd’s personal campaign against abortion. It has everything to do with the state’s systematic regard of poor Brown women as not entitled to authority over their bodies and their lives.
In “Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality, and the Right of Privacy,” Dorothy E. Roberts argues that the “prosecutions of drug-addicted mothers infringe on… the right to individual choice in reproductive decision making… the prosecutions infringe on choice by imposing an invidious government standard for the entitlement to procreate” (172-3). Like the prosecution of drug-addicted mothers, the forceful imposition of undocumented teens to carry their pregnancies to term is a violation of their right to individual choice. Roberts continues, “Such imposition of a government standard for childbearing is one way society denies the humanity of those who are different” (173). Indeed, by preventing Jane Doe from obtaining an abortion, the state denies her humanity and claims authority over her body.
Furthermore, the intersection of race, gender, citizenship, nationality, and socio-economic status is at the core of this event. The undocumented teens were an “easy target” for the state: they are already under constant surveillance in federal custody, they are not citizens, and probably not familiar with their constitutional rights. In “An Open Letter to Pierre Schlag,” Maria Grahn-Farley writes, “Pierre talks about the violence of the law but he does not talk about those whom the violence of the law serves or those whom the violence of the law violates” (141). This case illustrates clearly the way in which (in this case state policy), commits violence that serves those in power, and violates those who are least powerful in society. Thus, the pregnant undocumented teens are the “martyrs” of the law and social order; the sacrifice of their freedom of choice and right to privacy is the price American society pays in the name of social order (Grahn-Farley,143). Since they are not citizens, this sacrifice is coherent with the legal regime that does not perceive non-citizens (especially Brown and poor people) as entitled to the same human rights as those who are citizens.
Moreover, Grahn-Farley’s discussion of the “normative language of rights” is instructive in understanding the state’s disregard of the teens’ individual choice in reproductive decision making. She writes, “To understand a right is already to have understood a lack. To connect the self to a right is also to connect the self to a lack. To understand the self as incomplete, as not yet done, as missing, is to understand one’s rights” (145-6). The right of the teens to have an abortion is thus a lack; a lack of citizenship, a lack of whiteness, a lack of social status, a lack of language, a lack of ability to have authority over their bodies without filing a class action suit with the help of the ACLU.
Jane Doe and the other three teens who accused the Trump administration of blocking them from obtaining an abortion won their case with the help of the ACLU, and eventually were able to have an abortion. However, more questions remain unanswered: how many other pregnant undocumented minors are still subjected and will be subjected to the bullying of the Trump administration? Until when will government officials continue to assert their authority and dominance in the expense of poor women of color? When will society cease to deny the humanity of those who are “different?”