by Maria Vitale Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
March 28, 2005
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — The U.S. is trying to get a Navy wife to reimburse the government for the cost of her abortion. The woman sought the abortion more than two years ago after discovering that the baby she was carrying was disabled.
“I could not imagine going through five more months of pregnancy, knowing that the baby will never survive or have any kind of life whatsoever,” the woman, who was then 19, told a federal judge in August of 2002.
The woman won her case and had the abortion, but the federal government is now trying to get the woman and her sailor husband to pay back the $3,000 charged for the abortion.
Next month, the case of Jane Doe v. the United States will be argued before a federal appellate court. The case revolves around the Hyde Amendment regulations, which forbids the use of public funds for abortions except if the mother’s life is endangered or in cases of incest or rape.
Arguments will be heard April 6 before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco.
"It’s a sleeper case that no one is talking about because it’s so far from over, but when it hits, it’s going to be a big one," Maureen Britell, former executive director of the now-defunct Voters for Choice lobby in Washington, D.C., told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper.
Britell, an Air Force wife, filed the only similar case involving anencephaly, abortion, and military health coverage eleven years ago.
Anencephaly causes an unborn baby to develop without a forebrain, cerebellum, or cranium. The condition often leads to the death of the baby.
The Navy wife’s attorney, Vanessa Soriano Power, is basing her arguments on constitutional grounds, saying that federal regulations violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution. She’s arguing that the government should not deny abortion coverage when an unborn child is destined to die.
"I can’t understand the impetus behind the government pursuing this case," Power told the Post-Intelligencer.
"This young woman didn’t have the money to pay for it herself," Power told the newspaper. "Her husband is an enlisted man, and she was essentially earning minimum-wage working at the Navy Exchange, and the procedure becomes more expensive and risky to the mother the further along the pregnancy is carried. We essentially asked the court to force the government to stop withholding payment."
Justice Department officials have declined to talk about the case.
"There is nothing we can say in that this is ongoing," department spokesman Charles Miller told the Post-Intelligencer.
But in their appeal, the government’s lawyers said the refusal to fund abortion “furthers the government’s interest in protecting human life in general and promoting respect for life."
Eighteen weeks into her pregnancy, Jane Doe discovered the anencephaly during a routine protein test, then a later ultrasound.
"I talked to the medical staff and counselors, and then my husband and I discussed what we should do," Jane Doe told the court. "We talked about it with our families. Finally, we all agreed that it would be best for me to end the pregnancy now."
But in its appeal, the government said that "although anencephaly is ultimately fatal," some anencephalic babies have lasted a few months, and in one noted case more than two years. The government also argued that, although anencephalic infants are “permanently unconscious,” they “maintain a heartbeat and respiration without medical assistance."
Pro-abortion Congressmen have pushed hard for abortions at U.S. military facilities.
But retired Army Sgt. Pauline Keehn, who writes frequently on women in the military, says she supports the abortion ban. She first entered the military in 1971 before the abortion ban was instituted.
"[As] I saw the complications it caused … I was glad to see the restrictions placed on abortions," Keehn told Newsday. She added that lifting the abortion ban would require the military to keep doctors trained in performing abortions on staff — something that’s not needed and takes funds away from other important priorities.
And Concerned Women for America, a pro-life group, has said, “The majority of Americans do not want their tax dollars going toward abortion services."