A federal court in Washington on Thursday released documents that shed new light on the case of an undocumented teenager who tried to get an abortion after being raped. On Saturday, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) denied that teen's request to get an abortion. The teen, referred to in the case as Jane Poe, was able to obtain an abortion on Wednesday after a judge cleared it. But the newly released documents demonstrate the lengths to which the Trump administration is going in order to justify blocking undocumented girls and women like Jane from getting abortions.
ORR Director Scott Lloyd's memo about why he was denying Jane Poe's request is included in the court papers. "The child has at least a fighting chance at survival," he wrote, and further argued that getting an abortion could become "an additional trauma" for her:
"Even supposing it was possible to justify abortion in this context, abortion does not here cure the reality that she is the victim of an assault. It also carries with it significant risk of further complicating the matter. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that this young woman would go on to experience an abortion as an additional trauma on top of the trauma she experiences as a result of her sexual assault."
The ACLU has been representing Jane Poe. "ORR claimed that it denied Jane Poe’s abortion request based on her own best interest," said the ACLU on Thursday. "A new document makes it clear that wasn’t true: Jane's abortion was denied because Scott Lloyd and the Trump Administration oppose abortion no matter what the circumstances are."
Jane Poe entered the United States by herself earlier this year and was taken into custody at the border. She told the ORR that she had been raped in her home country, the name of which has not been disclosed, and that her assailant impregnated her. Jane Poe asked for an abortion right away, temporarily changed her mind after her mother allegedly said she would "beat" her for getting one, and then requested it again. Lloyd says in his memo that he believes her story; still, he declined to approve the procedure.
"To decline to assist in an abortion here is to decline to participate in violence against an innocent life," he wrote. "It will not undo or erase the memory of the violence committed against her, and it may further traumatize her. I conclude it is not in her interest."
"This memo makes clear that Scott Lloyd should immediately be removed from his position as director of ORR," Planned Parenthood said in a statement on Thursday. "Lloyd is imposing his personal beliefs on the young women in his agency’s care — to control their bodies and violate their constitutional rights."
The ACLU sued on Jane's behalf. On Monday, a federal court in Washington ruled that the ORR was denying Jane her constitutional right to an abortion and compelled the office to allow her to go forward with the procedure. The Trump administration criticized the court's decision in a statement: "HHS-funded facilities that provide temporary shelter and care for unaccompanied alien minors should not become way stations for these children to get taxpayer-facilitated abortion."
Although taxpayer money facilitated Jane's abortion, it did not fund the procedure itself, which was covered by funds from private donors. At 22 weeks pregnant, Jane had been nearing the date at which she would no longer be able to obtain an abortion. Twenty-four weeks is often seen as the upper limit to when a woman may have an abortion without risking her own health.
Although Jane Poe was able to safely go through the procedure, it's likely that more undocumented pregnant women who wish to obtain abortions will have difficulty doing so as long as Lloyd heads up the ORR.