Practicing Pathology: The Rhetoric of Pathology in Jane Doe's Struggle to Obtain an Abortion in Federal Immigration Custody

Date01 December 2019
AuthorSkye Saint Felix
Published date01 December 2019
doi: 10.1002/wmh3.320
© 2019 Policy Studies Organization
Practicing Pathology: The Rhetoric of Pathology in Jane
Does Struggle to Obtain an Abortion in Federal
Immigration Custody
Skye de Saint Felix
In October 2017, the stories of Jane Doe, Roe, and Poe, young women detained at a Texas immigration
detention center run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)made national headlines. They were
pregnant, undocumented immigrants who were denied access to abortion because the ORR argued
that they were not people for constitutional purposes.Using rhetorical silence, paternalistic rhet-
oric, and dehumanizing rhetoric, ORR director Scott Lloyd had the ultimate power of definition that
allowed him to rhetorically pathologize these women as undeserving of rights and health care. Tapping
into cultural and historical discourses that treat abortion and immigration as pathological and
measures of an afflicted society, Lloyd and ORR policy constituted a rhetoric of pathology that
demonized these women for their crimesof illegal immigration, sex, and requesting abortion. Their
stories and the rhetorical strategies used to justify their oppression are particularly important in the
continued fight for womens bodily autonomy and immigrant rights in a time of heightened border
security, deportation, and family separation.
KEY WORDS: abortion, immigration, pathology
In the United States, immigration and abortion are polarizing social and
political issues, but these tensions seemed to be amplified in the aftermath of the
2016 presidential election of Donald Trump. His election was seen by some as
partially affirming xenophobic rhetoric and subsequent policies, leading to a
flourishing of antiimmigrant sentiment. Not only did Trump run on a campaign
promise to build a wallbetween Mexico and the United States, but, once in office,
he further targeted immigrant rights with the Muslim ban,calls to repeal the
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)and deportation protections for
Dreamers, and increasing the Immigrant Enforcement Agencys(ICE)power
(Escalante, 2018). While it seems that immigrants are disproportionally targeted
under Trump, young immigrant women have faced an entirely new set of chal-
lenges regarding abortion access. In October 2017, the stories of three immigrant
teens seeking abortions while in federal custody, Jane Doe, Jane Roe, and Jane Poe,
made national headlines. These young women were detained by the federal Office
of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), under the Department of Health and Human
Services (DHHS), while immigrating to the United States. From March to December
2017, at least seven young women in ORR custody requested an abortion and were
initially denied (Sherman, 2018).
Any unaccompanied minor immigrating to the United States from Central
America who is detained at the U.S.Mexico border is immediately placed in ORR
custody, but Doe, Roe, and Poe were denied release from the shelter in Brownsville,
Texas (Vasquez, 2018b). This was particularly problematic because their continued
detention prevented them from obtaining the abortions they requested, igniting
social debates about the intersection of immigrant rights and abortion rights.
Although the stories of these women gained attention from activist groups like
Planned Parenthood and NARAL ProChoice America, the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU)discovered numerous immigrant women facing similar
injustices who were unable to get help. Doe, Roe, and Poe shed light on a dan-
gerous pattern and an ORR cultural norm of detaining pregnant immigrants for
around 6 weeks, refusing to let them see a credible doctor, and imposing anti
abortion ideologies onto young women in vulnerable positions (Amiri, 2018). After
the stories of these women were publicized, reports surfaced of immigration agents
ignoring pregnant detainees during miscarriages and leaving them to bleed for
hours or days without medical attention (Folley, 2018). These actions violate the
Flores Agreement (1997)which states that the government must provide or arrange
for appropriate routine medical careincluding family planning services
and emergency health care services(ACLU v. Wright, 2017, p. 2). Despite this
injunction, many immigrants were subjected to cruel, inhumane conditions.
In this paper, I investigate the story of Jane Doe, the first young woman to gain
national attention and whose treatment by the ORR became the basis for the
Supreme Court case, Garza v. Hargan (2018). Because of changes to ORR's policy
regarding unaccompanied children (UCs)under the Trump administration, the
ORR headed by Scott Lloyd denied Doe her abortion requests and instead
promoted a firm antiabortion ideology. First, I discuss the changes to ORR policy
under conservative leadership and how they affected Doe. Then, I explain how
rhetoric surrounding Does case embodies the rhetoric of pathology, which justified
denying her abortion rights. I argue that the rhetoric of pathology worked by
silencing Doe, positioning the ORR and Lloyd as morally superior to her, and
dehumanizing her as undeserving of care. I conclude by explaining the aftermath of
Does case, including Garza v. Hargan.
ORR Policy and Jane Doe
On March 4, 2017, appointees from the Trump administration revised the
current ORR policy regulating health care in youth immigration detention centers.
ThenActing Director of the ORR, Kenneth Tota, enacted a policy, which stated,
the Director of the ORR is empowered by Congress to make all medical decisions
for the unaccompanied alien child in place of the childs parents(Campaign for
Accountability, 2018, p. 9). Based on Totas change, Lloyd, who was appointed
quickly after the policy revision, was empowered to implement a blanket policy
de Saint Felix: Practicing Pathology 409

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