As Jane Doe Case Shows, Justice for All Includes Young People

While many organizations and individuals have been fighting to protect the health, rights, and identities of youth for decades, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go.

Young activists gather outside of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in support of Jane Doe on October 20. Lauryn Gutierrez / Rewire

Read more of our coverage of the Jane Doe case here.

As I watched the case of Jane Doe unfold, I kept thinking about the young people that I work with every day who organize to protect the rights of youth like Jane.

After fleeing abuse in her native Central American country, 17-year-old Jane sought refuge in the United States only to discover her pregnancy after being detained by U.S. authorities. She wanted an abortion because she knew what was best for her as a young immigrant. Unfortunately, she ran up against a veritable Trumpian wall of systemic barriers—political agendas designed to deny the humanity of people in detention by withholding health care under the assumption that young people cannot make informed choices, especially in regard to abortion. One of the young people I work with in Chicago, Brie Garrett, once expressed, “Health care is our human right, and everyone deserves to have access to opportunities and systems that help their lives.”

The American Civil Liberties Union stepped in to take her case, and #JusticeforJane became a rallying cry. The case was argued in legal courts and in the court of public opinion. After more than a month of obstruction, Jane persevered. Through the tireless efforts of her attorneys and her unbelievable strength and courage, Jane was able to get the abortion care that she needed. This was not because the current administration changed its policy or opened its heart to care about this young woman. Every chance federal officials got, they took advantage of her status as a young immigrant woman in custody to advance their agenda of demeaning immigrants and putting up obstacles to abortion care. Now the Justice Department is threatening disciplinary action against the lawyers who argued on Jane’s behalf after they expedited the case and provided robust and necessary advocacy for their client.

This issue is far from over. We know there are many more young women currently being held in federal detention facilities who are being denied abortion access and other health services. Achieving justice for one young woman is not enough. We must continue to fight for people caught up in our broken immigration system and those facing obstacles created by harmful state laws that force young people to seek consent or to notify a parent before they can seek an abortion.

We know that most young people talk to their parents about decisions concerning their own futures, but the fact is that some simply cannot. We can support families in building communication and trust, but a law cannot guarantee the safety youth deserve. Laws like Illinois’ Parental Notice of Abortion Act and policies on the books in 37 states that force young people to involve their parents put youth in difficult, sometimes truly dangerous, positions.

We as a society must confront our discomfort with youth sexuality and realize restrictions to care inflict real damage on young people who deserve to live their lives, whether they seek an abortion or plan to become parents. Judgment and stigma serve no positive purpose. In the words of Jane Doe in a statement she made after the ruling: “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.”

Young people are making important decisions about their lives every day. Strong families and communities emerge when we ensure that young people can decide who they trust to seek out for support and guidance and when we do not allow politically motivated obstacles to get in the way of timely, quality care.  That is what it looks like to actually put the best interests of young people first.

There are Janes all over this country—young people who are making decisions that are best for them. Justice for Jane does not end with one case. While many organizations and individuals have been fighting to protect the health, rights, and identities of youth for decades, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go. Our work has only just begun.