Today, the 17-year-old undocumented immigrant known only as Jane Doe was able to have an abortion. She finally accessed the medical procedure—which is legal in America, despite decades of attempts to undo Roe v. Wade—after weeks of government bickering over whether or not she should have the right to control what happens inside her own skin. When she first sought an abortion, she was nine weeks pregnant. Today, she was 16 weeks pregnant.
Let’s talk a little about what the U.S. government did to her.
Jane Doe didn’t know she was pregnant when she was first detained by immigration authorities in Brownsville, Texas. But a positive pregnancy test kicked off a legal battle that lays bare the empathy deficit of those who would deny her bodily autonomy.
First, the state blocked her from leaving the shelter and from getting the procedure at her own expense. Texas is a state that requires minors have parental consent before obtaining an abortion, but a court order when she was 11 weeks pregnant should have allowed her to bypass that. Then, according to The New York Times, government officials informed Jane Doe’s parents, who still reside in the Central American country where abortion is illegal, of her pregnant status. Jane Doe didn’t want her parents to know because she says when her sister was pregnant, her parents beat the sister to induce a miscarriage.
Meanwhile, Jane Doe was not getting any less pregnant.
The government said they weren’t denying Jane Doe her right to an abortion; by not allowing her to leave the detention facility in Brownsville, they were simply not facilitating her access to abortion. Besides, they argued, she could return to her home country (again, where abortion is illegal) and, I don’t know, get an illegal abortion or face the same fate her sister did. At any rate, it’s not their responsibility to facilitate an abortion.
The case made it all the way to the U.S. District court in DC, where a panel of three judges blocked Jane Doe’s access to abortion just last week, giving the Trump administration until October 31 to find Doe a suitable “guardian” to facilitate her abortion. But on Tuesday, the full court ruled 6-3 that the Trump administration was no longer allowed to delay the teenager from terminating her unwanted pregnancy. On Wednesday morning, the ACLU, which helped represent Jane Doe in her fight, announced that she’d successfully had an abortion. This, of course, after being required by Texas law to have her sonogram described to her and to undergo “counseling” at a crisis pregnancy center, counseling aimed at dissuading her from aborting. As if Jane Doe hadn’t already thought it through herself.
What the American government did to Jane Doe, what the government does to the “hundreds” of pregnant undocumented women in ICE custody, is unconscionable. By delaying her abortion, they subjected her to increased medical risks, dramatically increased costs, and the general physical discomfort of pregnancy for much longer than necessary. The mechanisms behind this fight are nothing but cruel.
While an estimated one in four U.S. women will have an abortion in her lifetime, the difference between an abortion at nine weeks and one at 16 weeks isn’t something most people want to discuss. It’s not a fun topic, but it’s necessary to understand in order to grasp what the government did to Jane Doe.
There’s a big difference between an abortion obtained at nine weeks versus one obtained at 16 weeks. Dr. Jennifer Kerns, associate professor in the OB-GYN department at the University of California-San Francisco, tells The Daily Beast that at nine weeks, a woman like Jane Doe could have had a medicinal abortion. In that case, a doctor would have prescribed the woman pills that she could have taken in the privacy of her home. Or, she could have had an aspiration procedure. “It could be done with little sedation, or with no sedation at all. Afterwards, we watch people from 30 minutes to an hour, and then they go home. And they can resume regular activities the next day.”
A 16-week procedure, while still safe and effective (all abortion is safer than childbirth), is more complicated and thus carries greater risk of complications. It can be completed in a single day or, in some cases, over the course of two days. First, doctors dilate the cervix, an uncomfortable to painful process for many patients. Then, doctors perform the procedure itself, which takes longer, requires more skill, and isn’t something every OB-GYN necessarily knows how to do. As the government fought over Jane Doe’s uterus, the number of providers who could perform the procedure she needed decreased.
Post-16 week procedures also require more downtime for patients. After an abortion, it takes time for a woman’s uterus to shrink down to its “normal” size. During that time, Kerns explains, patients sometimes experience intermittent bleeding. For a nine-week procedure, it doesn’t take more than a couple of days to couple of weeks for a woman’s anatomy to return to “normal,” and most patients resume normal activities the next day. For a 16-week procedure, the process can take significantly longer.
There’s also the issue of cost. Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, an associate professor at UCSF with a background in public health, notes that with every passing week of pregnancy, costs associated with terminating that pregnancy increase. Upadhyay coauthored a national study examining the cost of abortions. Women obtaining abortions in the first trimester, where Jane Doe was when she first realized she was pregnant, paid an average of $397 for an abortion procedure. The study notes that more complicated procedures can sometimes cost upwards of $3,500.
Finally, there’s the emotional stress Jane Doe endured as she waited for the state to decide if she had the same right to access a legal medical procedure that other women have.
Dr. Daniel Grossman, a practicing OB-GYN and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) notes that while abortion is very safe, Jane Doe’s ordeal wasn’t in anyone’s best interest. “This whole situation was completely unethical and inappropriate,” he tells The Daily Beast. “A woman who has decided to have an abortion, which is a legal procedure, should be able to access that care as soon as possible, when it’s safest and easiest to perform. There’s no reason to subject her to the additional risks, to make her go through a more complicated procedure really for no justifiable reason.”
What the “pro-life” forces in government did was, in effect, prolong the suffering of a pregnant teenager. I’m having difficulty seeing how that’s pro-anything but cruelty.
Jane Doe released a statement via her advocate today, the day she was finally allowed to have a more costly, complicated, and risky procedure than she’d have had if the government had stepped out of her way when she first found out she was pregnant.
“I made my decision and that is between me and God,” the statement reads. “Through all of this, I have never changed my mind. No one should be shamed for making the right decision for themselves. I would not tell any other girl in my situation what they should do. That decision is hers and hers alone.”