Editorial Board

The Right to Choose Isn't Just for Citizens

The federal government is cruelly (and unconstitutionally) blocking an undocumented 17-year-old from getting an abortion.

Border politics.

Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

There is a range of penalties for illegally crossing the U.S. border. Being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term should not be one of them.

Yet that is precisely the penalty that the federal government seeks to impose on Jane Doe, an undocumented 17-year-old who, after being seized by immigration authorities, is being prevented from obtaining an abortion. J.D., as the 17-year-old is known in court filings, arrived in the U.S. unaccompanied by her parents, who she says had abused her. Now almost 16 weeks pregnant, she previously received permission from a Texas court to make her own decision about an abortion and, with the aid of a court-appointed guardian, made an appointment to obtain one.

That's when the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency responsible for unaccompanied immigrant minors, began placing obstacles in her path, such as forcing J.D. to visit an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. Over J.D.’s objections, the government also informed J.D.’s mother about the pregnancy.

It's important to note that J.D. is not asking for public money to pay for her operation. Her court-appointed guardian and attorney have secured private financing for an abortion and will transport J.D. to have it. Instead, for the past month the federal government has refused to allow her to be transported to a health center. If the blockade continues, J.D. will soon come up against a Texas law banning abortion after 20 weeks.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit punted J.D.'s legal case back to a lower court, ensuring that J.D. will remain pregnant against her will for days or weeks longer. On Tuesday, the full court ruled that J.D. could obtain an abortion. It's not yet clear whether the government will appeal.

Thus far in the case, however, the Justice Department has argued that J.D. could simply renounce her legal claims and voluntarily return to the country where she was abused -- and where abortion is illegal. Meantime, the department insists that she cannot secure her rights in the U.S. until she finds an appropriate sponsor, usually a family relation, which may not be feasible.

In her dissent from the Circuit Court ruling, Judge Patricia Millet wrote that forcing J.D. "to continue an unwanted pregnancy just in the hopes of finding a sponsor that has not been found in the past six weeks sacrifices J.D.’s constitutional liberty, autonomy, and personal dignity for no justifiable governmental reason."

The government's effort to force J.D. to bear a child before, presumably, it seeks to kick her out of the country altogether is a cruel parody of ideological obsession and bureaucratic myopia. J.D. has made her choice. American law, which confers rights on people in the U.S. regardless of citizenship,  guarantees her right to do so. The federal government must abide by it.

    --Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Michael Newman.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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