Well, turns out the case didn’t make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after all. Making swift use of an order from the D.C. Court of Appeals to the Trump administration to stop trying to interfere with her constitutional right to choose, a detained unauthorized immigrant (known in the court proceedings as Jane Doe) obtained the abortion she has been seeking for weeks, according to a news release from the ACLU. The full Court of Appeals overruled an earlier decision by two conservative members of the three-judge panel to let the government prevent the abortion until at least the end of October while it searched for a friends-or-family sponsor to take responsibility for the young woman’s actions.
While the abortion makes the legal controversy moot, the implications of this case will hang over the courts and the political debate over abortion for some time, in part because of the eerie Handmaid’s Tale parallels it invokes of a theocratic government treating a pregnant woman as a breeding asset of the state rather than an autonomous individual. As Dahlia Lithwick acutely observed, the Trump administration seemed to be trying to appropriate for the federal government the same broad prerogatives to interfere with reproductive rights so as not to violate its religiously informed “conscience” as individuals and even businesses have secured through “religious liberty” protections:
In defending its inchoate and unconstitutional maneuvering to avoid “facilitating” a lawful abortion for which it pays no fees, the Trump administration argues it is respecting “fetal life.” Simultaneously, to shrink Jane Doe’s actual interests in not carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, the administration has painstakingly dismissed her as a non-citizen, a minor, and of course, a female, and thus in need of adult supervision. And in this way the road to the perfect dehumanization of humans is achieved. That road was paved in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, in which the justices affirmed similar arguments about the complex spiritual lives of for-profit corporations.
As it continues to pursue via appointments to the Supreme Court the explicit power to ban abortions and force all pregnant women within the boundaries of the United States to carry every single pregnancy to term, this administration is testing the courts’ willingness to let it thwart abortions whenever it can get away with it on grounds of religion-based concern for fetal life. Six judges of the D.C. Court of Appeals rejected this argument out of hand, but three did not. And that is why the administration’s struggle to reshape the federal courts at every level is such a very big deal, with tangible implications for the daily lives of many millions of Americans — especially women who imagine their control of their own bodies is secure.