Why are these women, awash in a sea of “pink slips,” all of whom have had abortions, standing on the steps in front of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in late February 2018, demonstrating live on YouTube? Why are they demanding the firing of the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd, the bureaucrat who forces young women to breed against their will?
Why are we protesting? Because we are not having it! And neither is Sen. Patty Murray, who took to the floor of the Senate to amplify our views, pointing out that, once again, our government has overstepped its authority, ignored the rule of law, and allowed one man’s ideology and/or religion to determine the rules for women in his custody. And neither is the House Pro-Choice Caucus having it, as members lined up soon after the protest to sign a “pink slip” to terminate Lloyd.
Here is the latest story in the long line of stories about our government’s disrespect for women.
Teenager Jane Doe escaped an abusive Salvadoran family and entered the United States as an undocumented, unaccompanied minor. She was detained in Texas and placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is responsible for sheltering these youth. When she discovered she was pregnant she asked for an abortion. So, imagine Jane, alone in a foreign country, uncertain of her immigration prospects, but holding onto dreams for a better future for herself. Unfortunately for her, the ORR is headed by an ideologue named Scott Lloyd.
So, who is this guy? According to the ACLU, he’s an attorney with a long history of opposing contraception and abortion access. He served on the board of an anti-abortion center, wrote that contraceptives “do not work as advertised” and “are the cause of abortion,” made himself the sole decision maker for every abortion request by the young women under his control, and personally visited or called them to persuade them to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.
After months of obstacles placed in her path by Lloyd, Jane raised funds, got a judicial bypass of parental consent required in Texas for minors seeking abortion, endured numerous people trying to dissuade her, but finally succeeded in getting the abortion she needed — but only because of her dogged determination, the support of the ACLU, and our courts upholding the rule of law.
But our fight doesn’t end with Jane Doe’s victory. Other women in Lloyd’s care have not been as successful. Forty or more Janes (Jane Roe, Jane Moe, Jane Poe, etc.) either gave up the fight as their pregnancies progressed or are still fighting in court for their constitutional rights. The courts have repeatedly confirmed these young women’s right to abortion care, and on Friday reaffirmed those rights by directing HHS to stop obstructing abortions as the women‘s class-action case proceeds.
Lloyd is not a lone wolf in this story, either. The current secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, has said he supports Lloyd and thinks the ORR is within its rights to deny abortions for unaccompanied minors. Garza v. Hargan, the lawsuit brought by the ACLU on Jane Doe’s behalf, was defended by HHS. Reacting to an HHS filing in that lawsuit, 43 members of the House of Representatives called out acting Secretary Eric Hargan in a December 1, 2017, letter for justifying Lloyd’s actions, writing, “You claimed the government had ‘strong and constitutionally legitimate interests in promoting childbirth.'”
Let’s examine that legal assertion. Our government has an interest in PROMOTING childBIRTH? Here are a few ways we might interpret those words. The government can/should …
- Praise women who bear children
- Pay or give other benefits to women who bear children
- Force pregnant women to give birth
- Force desirable, fertile women to get pregnant and give birth (“Hey, gals, we need to prop up the economy with more workers paying taxes. Get crackin’!”)
Let’s see. Which of the above should we suppose was meant in the Jane Doe lawsuit defense? No. 3, of course. The pregnant teenager fled from an abusive family; she wants an abortion; let’s force her to bear the child. I’m going to give HHS, Hargan, Lloyd, and Azar the benefit of the doubt and say they are not arguing for No. 4 and entering The Handmaid’s Tale territory — yet.
The Justice for Jane protests and “pink slip” campaign were organized by Advocates for Youth as part of its “1 in 3” campaign to show how common the need for abortion care is. This year the spotlight is on Lloyd, poster boy for the dystopian, patriarchal view of women held by higher-ups in the Trump administration. Women who have been silent for years, hiding their own abortion stories, are so fed up that they are hitting the streets, writing, and saying: “We’re not having it.”
Angry at our government’s continuing women’s-health nonsense, I went to the Justice for Jane event in Washington, D.C. to tell my story (see video above), demonstrate, and lobby Congress. There I met Karen Thurston (pictured left) and we participated together. Karen then flew home to lobby Georgia’s legislature the next day. Listen to Karen tell her abortion story.
Prominent, influential journalists also are joining the fray in a very personal way. For example, Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, recently wrote an article titled, “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right.”
It’s not just individuals, lawmakers, and journalists here in the United States, either. All around the world, women are demanding control over their reproductive decisions, increasingly joined by rational, empathetic men.
- In Ireland, a massive grassroots campaign is driving for the May 2018 referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which enshrines an abortion ban and, immediately following repeal, to pass laws for legal abortion at up to 12 weeks’ gestation.
- In Argentina, a shift in public opinion in the traditionally conservative country has forced Congress to vote on a bill to change the law this spring. The amendment would allow terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
- In El Salvador, where women who suffer stillbirths are sometimes jailed for “aggravated murder,” advocates launched the “Las17” campaign to force courts to commute their sentences. For Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín, 34, that meant she was free after serving almost 15 years of a 30-year sentence for a stillbirth that occurred shortly before term. The court said it considered the sentence to be “excessive and immoral.”
- In the Dominican Republic, where any abortion is illegal, women took to the streets to fight abortion restrictions.
- What about the rest of the world? This Center for Reproductive Rights map and chart summarizes worldwide laws restricting abortion as of 2014. I could list grassroots efforts by women in every country with any restrictions.
And for those fed up with slow legislative change that seems at times impossible, groups like Women on Waves circumvent abortion restrictions by using drones to fly abortion pills to women who cannot otherwise access them, providing abortions in international waters, and producing extensive abortion care how-to and where-to information via the internet.
Are you fed up yet? If so, and you are not already in the arena, step off the sidelines. Tell your stories. Get involved. For starters, sign the petition to fire Scott Lloyd — yes, as of the time we published, our poster boy for “I know what’s best for you, young lady” coercion is still there.