For those of us biting our nails, worried about the impact this administration will have on women’s equality in the United States, and thus its influence to promote equality around the world, the legal battle playing out over a seventeen year old, unaccompanied immigrant seeking an abortion for a desperately unwanted pregnancy while in Federal custody has been nerve-racking. The young woman, known as Jane Doe because she is a minor, is currently being held in a relocation detention center in Texas while they seek a suitable sponsor for her. She came to the United States seeking refuge from abuse and had no idea she was pregnant until the medical examination at the detention center. In Texas, a minor must obtain a court order to undergo an abortion without a parent’s or guardian’s consent. She did this. A judge gave the legal order for her to be permitted to have the abortion. She also had the money to pay for it and a court appointed guardian to escort her to the procedure. But the Federal government stepped in and stepped on the constitution in the process… not just stepped on, but did a tap dance all over it.
More than merely obstructing the court order and denying Jane access to the procedure by saying she could not leave the facility for the abortion, they forced her to attend counseling at a religious, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. Let that sink in for a moment. They would not let her leave the premises to get a court ordered medical procedure, but they forced her to leave to attend religious counseling. Religious. As though the separation of Church and State were meaningless. They essentially denied her due process because when she used it, they refused to acknowledge it and made new rules to circumvent it. Then they shoved religious dogma, evidently State Supported Religious Dogma, down her throat. She then had to return to due process, winning again. But the clock was ticking and, all the while, she came ever closer to the twenty week cut off the state of Texas has for elective abortions.
Jane Doe did receive her completely legal abortion, much to the consternation of the Federal Government. The Justice Department, in a tizzy, has filed a petition to literally seek retribution against the ACLU attorneys representing Jane Doe for not informing them that she would be having the procedure done on October 25. First, to be perfectly clear, Doe’s procedure date was between her and her doctor. The State was aware of her appointment on that date, and only made aware because she would need to leave the facility and not out of any duty by her attorneys to make the Justice Department privy to her procedure schedule. The State made a miscalculation, believing she would need to wait at least another twenty-four hours for the abortion as Texas law requires she be counseled by the doctor no less than twenty-four hours before the procedure. But Jane Doe had already been previously counseled by the doctor performing the procedure and had no need to wait an additional day. The Justice Department complained that they should have been informed because they wanted to file another motion to attempt to delay or prevent the abortion. Think about that. They got mad because she did what she was completely and legally entitled to do and the government is angry because she and her lawyers did not voluntarily go out of their way to give the Justice Department even more opportunity to obstruct her. Now, after the fact, they want the Supreme Court of the United States to vacate the previous decision. Why? So it cannot be cited in future cases for women daring to exercise reproductive freedom.
Jane Doe is not the first young woman forced into this situation and the Trump administration and his Justice Department are hoping to intimidate and scare other attorneys from taking on these cases and, thus, fashion some sort of anti-choice victory from the ashes of their defeat. But this is just one battlefield of so many in a much larger war against women and religious freedom.
This is not just about reproductive freedom. It isn’t even just about women’s equality. It is also about religious freedom and the separation of church and state. It is all of these things and all of them are equally important because our freedoms are interlocked. Having reproductive rights is essential to the equality of women in our society. The separation of church and state prevents religious ideologies being reflected in our society as a matter of law and from any religion being given dominance over any other. The opposition to abortion and birth control is not based in science, but predominantly in religion. Religion has no place dictating any aspect of our government or laws or policies. Period.
To force this young girl to attend faith-based counseling is outright against our constitution. Before you get high in arms, suggesting she has no “constitutional rights” or shouldn’t because she is not a citizen, guess again. The constitution outlines, in this case, the behavior of our government and the constraints it must operate within, without regard to the citizenship of any individual. In other words, the government cannot advocate any religion, period, to anyone, anywhere. Demanding faith-based counseling, or in fact, any counseling which is not directed by the attending physician nor based in medicine and is not at the full and willing consent of the patient, is a violation of human rights and an attempt to impose ideologies that are not within the scope of the law. That is bad, people. Really bad. If you are an anti-choice proponent, then you may be all for it right now, because it helps you get your way, but what happens when the exact same method is used for something you do not agree with? What if women had to get counseling before they could cut their hair? Or enter the workforce? What if you had to pass a government religious test to be a single parent? There are many who believe a single, unmarried mother is an abomination and not being married is child abuse. Would you want those people dictating laws and policies?
That is the real problem with letting religion interfere with government, in any way. Religions are different. Even the same religions have hundreds of separate groups who all believe their religion should be managed differently. They all believe they are right. Most believe only they are right. Take a look at the Illinois HB6064 which was proposed in February of 2016 by the GOP controlled House. It specifically sought to exclude single mothers who either could not or would not (for whatever reason) provide the father’s name for a new-born baby from receiving a birth certificate with the intent on preventing them from ever qualifying to receive financial aid for that child from the government. While they claimed this was about preventing the government picking up the tab for children with able-bodied fathers who should be helping support their child, it certainly did nothing to harm the fathers. It targeted the mothers and the “illegitimate” child. The end result was establishing that if a child doesn’t know his or her father, then they are worthless and do not deserve things like lunches at school, healthcare, a roof over their heads or food to eat. Thankfully, due to public outcry, this bill was tabled the following April 5th. This ideology of illegitimate children having a lower social standing in our society is based heavily in religious dogma which believes sex outside of marriage is sinful and any product or offspring of such a coupling is conceived in sin.
You can also take a look at the various forms Trumpcare has taken in the GOP eagerness to throw tens of millions of people out of reach of quality healthcare. There have been too many special restrictions which are based in religion, such as making it possible for employers to restrict coverage of birth control or other reproductive services for women. There was even, at one point, a measure to allow insurance companies to deny maternity coverage if the mother was unmarried. Seriously. How is this not based on a religious idea of morality? Outside of religious dogma, people are more concerned with the health and safety of a child than they are the marital status of that child’s parents.
Now, take a look at the new attempt to circumvent abortion in the US House of Representatives: A six-week abortion ban. This is ignorance at its finest. Most women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks. In actuality, they are not six weeks pregnant because the weeks of pregnancy are not counted from the point of conception (which is impossible to determine unless it happens outside the womb) but from the first day of their last menstrual cycle. Which, in the event you are a complete idiot, I will tell you, means they were almost certainly not pregnant at that time. It is possible for a woman to have several cycles even while pregnant, but that is extremely rare. For the vast majority, pregnancy occurs somewhere between two to four weeks after that date, depending on such things like ovulation, and how long it takes a fertilized egg to develop into a blastocyst, drop into the uterus and attach itself to the wall. When a woman is one day late for her period she could be actually days pregnant, or just late. It can take another two weeks to develop enough hormone in the body to render a reliable pregnancy test result. Taking the test before then can easily result in a false negative. Thus, without an ultrasound, you cannot even accurately determine pregnancy, excluding the likelihood of false negatives, until what is generally considered the six-week mark. This ban, also known as H.R. 490, is another attempt to push religious dogma into laws designed to control the population based on the religious beliefs held by some and not based in science. It is a method to control women in society and demote them to what they religiously believe is their primary purpose: to breed and be in the service of their husbands. It also gives them further dominion over legally controlling sex in society based on their religious ideologies.
You don’t believe this breeder mentality is at the core of GOP sentiment? Well, Wisconsin GOP Rep. Scott Allen had this to say,
“Labor force shortages are tied to population declines. Labor force shortages are a limiting factor in economic growth. And limited economic growth poses a problem when government tries to pay for public services and infrastructure. In spite of this Mr. Speaker, ironically, the Democrats continue their effort to support the abortion industry.”
Uh huh. Yes. That means exactly what it sounds like. Rep. Allen suggests (and suggest is a pretty weak word for it) that abortion should be banned because we need women breeding these babies to ensure the future labor force and economic growth. I think I’ve touched on this before, the economic reasoning for the anti-choice movement, and I am thankful to Allen here for proving my point. Many of the elective abortions happen because the woman is not at a stable point in her life to have and care for a child. Having a child at that time would ensure poverty for both, leaving a single mother, without an education to scrape by at minimum wage jobs with inadequate support to help her child achieve a better life or education. This can easily become a cycle from one generation to the next of low expectations, poverty and, you guessed it, cheap labor. Millions of jobs across the country pay poverty wages. Tens of millions. More, in fact. It is estimated that 42.4% of those employed in the United States make less than $15 an hour. There are only fifteen states out of all fifty where that is a living wage for a single person. Not for a single mom to care for a child, but just one adult, and it is only within pennies of survival. In the thirty-five remaining states, $15 an hour is not enough money for even one person to live outside of poverty. If you make less that $14.26 per hour then there is nowhere in the country you can live outside of poverty. But still, more than 42% of jobs fall under $15 per hour. How do you fill that many poverty wage jobs? How do you convince that many people to accept poverty wages for hard work? Well, people born to poverty are accustomed to it. It is what they know and those wages are what they have been taught to expect. When too many people began taking advantage of higher education, the pay demands of jobs began to increase. The resounding answer was to make college unaffordable and ensure those who do graduate feel so encumbered by debt that they would accept less in their desperation. After all, they only have six months to start paying back those student loans. So, what Rep. Allen is really letting slip is that he wants impoverished babies to grow up to be desperate workers willing to accept crumbs just to try to survive. I am sure he would apply the same reasoning to birth control, since it effectively prevents far more unwanted pregnancies. They need a new crop of impoverished workers so women need to get busy breeding on demand.
The Right would have you believe they are fighting for religious liberty, frequently naming their bills and laws designed to give employers religious powers over their employees things like The Religious Freedom Act, and other misnomers. An example is taking away birth control from group health insurance plans. Another example is making it acceptable to fire or not hire women because of their choice to have an abortion or use birth control. It is also reflected in the Right’s policies that employers should have the right to not hire, fire or refuse advancement to people based on their sexual orientation or having a same-sex marriage based on nothing more than the employer’s religious beliefs, thus giving the employer religious priority over employees. In effect, this says that the government endorses an employer’s religion over that of an employee. At the moment, many far right Christians are fine with this, so long as it is their religion which gets priority. However, any time there is even a semblance of, say, an Islamic employer implementing such actions, the scream of, “Sharia Law!” is tantamount to ear-piercing. Their indignation, and hypocrisy, is amazing to behold. It shows the truth beneath the rhetoric, underlying the misnomer of Religious Freedom.
We are all Jane Doe. Men, women, children. Everyone. We all have our own, closely held beliefs, whether they are: religious, political, moral, or otherwise. Whether we believe in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, we’re an atheist, agnostic, subscribe to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, we are all Jane Doe. We each have inalienable rights that should not be sacrificed to a loud minority. More than 70% of the nations supports women’s’ rights to choice and 89% support birth control as a moral option to reduce unwanted pregnancies. 79% of the United States believe it should be easily accessible and even publicly funded. So, we are talking about a loud, religiously cultish minority, though politically powerful, imposing their beliefs on everyone else. Those beliefs are outside the Constitution of the United States and, therefore, a danger to all of our liberties. When you can toss aside any freedom, for anyone, personal freedoms, and make them subject to the whims of others, then there is no freedom at all. They will all fall like a string of dominoes. If you have ever built domino lines then you know it takes a lot longer to set them up, or reset them, than it does to knock them over. So, like Jane Doe, we need to all guard our freedoms closely and not allow them to erode. Reproductive freedom, religious freedom, the right to work, live, love, vote, receive an education, to food and shelter and accessible healthcare, no matter our gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or financial stability, these are all things worth fighting for, worth achieving and keeping.
Jane Doe fought her battle and won, albeit with help, it was still a win for all of us, that our laws mean something and, so too, does our freedom. Despite the extreme pressures placed on her by the weight of the federal government of the United States of America, she did not waver. It would have been easy to cave under such pressure, but she did not. We must all be willing to hold, steadfast, to the progress our nation has made towards equality, and push it forward, against the unrelenting current of those who enjoy and prefer power over others. Our freedom is not a gift at all. It was fought for and earned, demanded and pried from the greedy hands of oppressors. It is not a gift. it is a right.
Resist. We cannot now become complacent. Jane Doe gives us hope. We can stand against an administration seeking to be a regime. We are many and we have power.
We are One Woman, One World.
Photo credit: Los Angeles Times