What has our country become?
Born on the backs of slaves, raised on the sustinence of genocide as the Native population was swept away, blind to Jewish refugees seeking asylum during World War II, deaf to Jim Crow lasting decades beyond its judicial overthrow, insensitive to closing the borders on asylum seekers and to our black brothers and sisters, murdered by our own police forces.
And now, our government is keeping a spreadsheet of refugee girls’—teenagers and younger—menstrual cycles and pregnancy gestational age in order to prevent their access to an abortion.
We should be ashamed. We should be screaming and tearing out our hair at this latest outrage, the state of our country and the actions of this administration. Yet most of us attend classes and carry on, laughing with our friends as if nothing is wrong. We fall prey to the idea that if things look normal for us, then our country and our world simply must be okay.
Education and happiness are both critical for our future and our sanity, but they cannot be barriers to our standing up and demanding justice.
After the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Scott Lloyd was appointed head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), making him responsible for the integration of refugees, asylum seekers and other new immigrants into the United States. Having no previous refugee or immigration experience, Lloyd is known for his strong personal anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive views. As a lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, Lloyd authored a ruling allowing medical providers the right to refuse contraceptives and abortions.
With this appointment, Trump’s strategy can only be seen as an effort to prohibit girls from accessing these services. As the gatekeeper and foster parent for all unaccompanied minors, Lloyd, used his position to stop girls from leaving their jails to access health services, including termination of pregnancy.
The first public notice of such acts was the case of Jane Doe, a 17-year-old refugee pregnant as a result of rape. This young woman sued the ORR with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. In March 2018, the court ruled that the federal workers could not interfere or obstruct medical appointments, including abortion and women’s health.
Yet, for at least six months after this ruling, Lloyd and the ORR continued tracking pregnant girls in their custody. Lloyd instructed his staff to find out when each girl became pregnant, while providing a “counselor” from a pre-approved list of anti-abortion, “life-affirming” actors to try to convince the girl to continue her pregnancy.
Ignoring the judge’s ruling, Lloyd created a 28-page, detailed spreadsheet noting the date the pregnancy was reported, age, program number and state, result of a pregnancy test, estimated gestational age, whether it was reported to be a result of rape or consensual sex and additional notes regarding the specifics of girls’ menstrual cycles for each individual woman. Girls aged 12 to 17 were tracked and physically detained, prevented from seeing a physician for an abortion until it was no longer legally allowed due to gestational age.
America’s history—and present—is replete with efforts to silence minorities and women. For if we are silenced, it is harder for us, sometimes even impossible, to fight for justice and human rights. If Lloyd and the ORR, if Trump and the men who want to control women really wanted to prevent abortions, they would support proper sex education and birth control methods.
Currently, sex education in the U.S. is fueled by abstinence-only teachings and routines of snapping rubber bands on high school girls’ arms, telling them they will be worthless if they have sex. Meanwhile, such practices and lectures are rarely given to boys.
We would do well with a system like that of the Netherlands, in which comprehensive sex education begins in primary school. Before becoming teenagers, Dutch children have already discussed ideas around body image, gender stereotypes, sexual orientation and forms of contraception. The Dutch system encourages respect for different sexual orientations and preferences, while helping students have skills to protect themselves from coercion or abuse.
Beyond their holistic approach to sex education, the Dutch make condoms readily available while offering free birth control to anyone under 21. An open discussion about sex has paid off for the Netherlands, making them a country with one of the lowest teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates in the world.
This is not what the U.S. does. Failing to teach adequate sex education to girls is a way to silence and shame them about reproductive rights and sexual preferences.
When these policies are applied to young female refugees, the result is no surprise. They come pleading for help. In response, we institutionalize them, taking away their rights and dignity. If they request medical assistance to terminate a pregnancy, these girls are physically detained until it is no longer legal for them to have an abortion under the state’s law.
What I want to ask is this: how can we spout rhetoric about equal opportunity and protection of rights while we force young girls to carry their pregnancies against their will, even when they are the result of rape?
In a 1918 speech, then U.S. Presidential candidate Eugene Debs proclaimed, “while there is a lower class, I am in it … and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” Extending Debs’ beautiful and poetic speech, while women are abused, detained and silenced, we are as well. We must not for a moment forget about them.
Let us not forget to prioritize love and compassion for all as we work to dismantle the dystopian nightmare of this administration.