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A 17-year-old undocumented immigrant has been fighting to get an abortion. Today, she won.

For Jane Doe, the wait is over. But other young people could face similar barriers.

Protesters supporting Jane Doe outside the Department of Health and Human Services on October 20, 2017
Protesters supporting Jane Doe outside the Department of Health and Human Services on October 20, 2017.
The Washington Post/Contributor/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

On Wednesday morning, a teenager detained in a Texas immigration shelter was able to get the abortion she’s been seeking for more than a month.

The 17-year-old, identified in court documents only as Jane Doe, had been blocked from getting the procedure by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for undocumented, unaccompanied minors. Under the Trump administration, the ORR had instituted a new policy requiring that all minors seeking abortions get permission from the office’s director — and in Doe’s case, that permission was denied.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on Doe’s behalf, and the teenager entered a legal battle with the federal government. (You can read more about the case here.) Essentially, the government argued that it should not be required to “facilitate” Doe’s abortion by allowing her to leave the shelter for it (which, the government said, would require officials to do paperwork and monitor Doe’s health after the procedure). If Jane Doe wanted an abortion, the government argued, she should voluntarily leave the country, or find a sponsor who would take her in and allow her to get the procedure.

On Tuesday, an appeals court ruled in Doe’s favor. “Today’s decision rights a grave constitutional wrong by the government,” Judge Patricia Millett wrote in her concurring opinion. (Her dissent from an earlier ruling in the case is also worth reading.) “Remember, we are talking about a child here. A child who is alone in a foreign land. A child who, after her arrival here in a search for safety and after the government took her into custody, learned that she is pregnant.”

Doe “made a considered decision, presumably in light of her dire circumstances, to terminate that pregnancy,” Millett wrote, and the government had no legal right to stop her. “Surely the mere act of entry into the United States without documentation does not mean that an immigrant’s body is no longer her or his own,” she continued. “Nor can the sanction for unlawful entry be forcing a child to have a baby.”

Jane Doe is not the only unaccompanied minor in her situation — according to the ACLU, the ORR requires young people seeking abortions to get counseling at crisis pregnancy centers, and the director of the office once visited a pregnant unaccompanied minor personally to talk her out of getting an abortion. A motion for class certification filed by the ACLU, which would help all undocumented minors seek abortions without interference from ORR, is pending before a judge. “The Administration's efforts to interfere in women's decisions won't stop with Jane,” said Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU, in a statement on Wednesday.

But for Doe, the waiting is over.

“My lawyers have told me that people around the country have been calling and writing to show support for me,” she said in a statement. “I am touched by this show of love from people I may never know and from a country I am just beginning to know — to all of you, thank you.”

“This is my life, my decision. I want a better future. I want justice.”

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