The federal government is currently holding a young woman hostage in Brownsville, Texas, and denying her an abortion because of her age and her immigration status. It’s an injustice, one experienced by young people every day.
I was “Jane Doe” once, and as I read what’s happening to Jane Doe in Texas, I feel for her.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration on behalf of Jane Doe, an undocumented 17-year-old seeking an abortion, but who has been denied the ability to visit a clinic and receive care by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Due to Texas’ parental consent law, Doe needed a judicial bypass, which she obtained through the support of Jane’s Due Process, a Texas-based nonprofit that supports young people in accessing abortions. However, after receiving the bypass, the ORR forced her to miss two appointments and instead sent her to an anti-choice “crisis pregnancy center.” She is nearing the 20-week mark of pregnancy, which could make it impossible for her to access an abortion in the state of Texas.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed an amicus brief in the case, believes that the federal government has the right to deny an abortion to undocumented young people. “If ‘Doe’ prevails in this case, the ruling will create a right to abortion for anyone on earth who enters the U.S. illegally,” Attorney General Paxton said in a statement. “Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions.”
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In reality, Texas is in no “danger” of becoming a sanctuary state. For young people, Texas—and the United States overall—is anything but a sanctuary state for abortions. I know, because I had to go through some of what Jane Doe is facing when I had an abortion at 17 years old.
It was a whirlwind of summer romance that started at the pizza shop in my hometown in Jacksonville, Florida, where I waitressed at and blossomed into my first taste of true love. We took the next step and started having sex. At the tail end of the summer, the condom broke and we sat there wondering what we were going to do. After a Google search, we learned about Plan B, emergency contraception.
I waited in silence in my car, while my boyfriend went to purchase Plan B, contemplating what this pregnancy could mean for my future. I thought about the abuse I survived as a child and how I was so close to the freedom of turning 18. I thought about how in love I was and if this would change our relationship. I thought about my Catholic pediatrician who refused to prescribe me birth control when I was 16, saying my parents would find out and that God didn’t want me having sex so young. I thought about how there was no way in hell I could tell my parents, because I’d face the wrath of my abusive father and my mom’s religion that kept her by his side.
My heart sank when my boyfriend came back to the car explaining that the pharmacist wouldn’t sell it to him. The pharmacist said that he needed a prescription, and since he wasn’t the person taking it anyway, there was nothing she could do for him. We didn’t know that the month before, the law changed, allowing over-the-counter purchase of Plan B for people under the age of 18 without a prescription, and cisgender men.
I spent the next two weeks Googling “DIY abortion,” “how to cause a miscarriage,” and considering the old method of having someone push me down the stairs, until I finally took a test and confirmed I was pregnant.
I began looking for my options for an abortion knowing I would need my parents’ permission, and I simply wouldn’t be able to get it. I had an abortion the year before after being sexually assaulted at a party. My mother refused to take me to the appointment, and my father shamed me for being pregnant but took me to my appointment anyway. On the way home, he threw my birth control prescription from the clinic out of the car window. I was scared and knew I’d be punished by being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy if I told my parents I was pregnant again.
So I used Google to search what the options were for minors to obtain abortions without parental permission. That’s when I found out I needed a judicial bypass.
A judicial bypass is when a judge gives an order that allows a minor meeting certain criteria to have an abortion without notifying an adult family member. It was my safest option; better yet, my only option.
In my research on judicial bypass, I scoured message boards and called a hotline I found for two days until I finally got a response. They gave me information for a free attorney who would take my case; 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 that I was having an abortion.
In a five-page essay, I outlined my case and explained that my family’s history of abuse and domestic violence would have put me in danger if they found out.
The attorney was proud; I made her case research easy. My fate was then put into the hands of a judge in conservative North Florida. I was scared.
A week later, I got my hearing and the judge asked to hear from me. I don’t remember what I said or if it even mattered. The next day I received my court order that called me “Jane Doe.” I told my parents I was going to school, and was at the clinic first thing in the morning. I stayed until the clinic closed and my boyfriend dropped me off at my car so I could drive home. I walked back into my parents’ house and helped my mom peel potatoes for dinner. Dad would be upset if it wasn’t ready by 6 o’clock.
I didn’t realize how much of an injustice this was to me until five years later when I began my abortion rights advocacy work. I was lucky to have been granted a judicial bypass; I know this is not the reality for many young people around the country.
Jane Doe’s case shows the horrific impact parental consent laws and inhumane anti-immigrant policies have on undocumented people and young people seeking health care. The state would rather criminalize her and force her to become a parent when she doesn’t want to, than support her access to an abortion.
Barriers to abortion access are magnified for young people and immigrants. Trying to find a ride to a clinic, affording an abortion, and getting legal access can be impossible. Funding data provided to me from the National Network of Abortion Funds shows that of the people who received funding, young people were less likely to have access to birth control (61.8 percent), and more likely to become pregnant as a result of rape (16.7 percent), than their adult counterparts (41.6 percent and 7 percent, respectively). Researchers also found the cost to obtain an abortion was significantly higher for young people than for adults, due to barriers like delays in obtaining money to pay for the abortion and traveling to a clinic far away.
Jane, I hope you know I fight for you every day. I see you. I feel you. You are not alone and you deserve better than what this system is giving you.
Everyone deserves abortion access, no matter their age or immigration status.