Reproductive Rights

ACLU Lawsuit Aims to Protect Reproductive Health Access for Undocumented Minors

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on Friday against the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which claims that the ORR has violated the separation of church and state by providing millions of dollars annually to Catholic Charity organizations that refuse to provide constitutionally guaranteed reproductive care to the minors in their custody.

The ORR is obligated to provide basic care for unaccompanied migrants under the age of 18 who are apprehended while in the United States, including necessary medical care like reproductive care. After being apprehended, minors are placed in the custody of private organizations that receive federal funding to provide these basic care services until a permanent arrangement is made for the young migrants.

The ACLU suit argues that by allotting tax-payer dollars to private organizations that deny women and girls their legally guaranteed right to access comprehensive reproductive healthcare, the ACLU argues that the federal government is prioritizing a particular set of religious beliefs and therefore violating the constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state. For example, the federal government provides over $10 million to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to provide care for undocumented minors, even though the USCCB refuses to allow girls in their care to access abortion or contraceptives, and have even essentially forced girls to leave their program for requesting abortions.

The suit includes an in-depth description of four cases in which undocumented minors requested abortions and were forced to be transferred to different care facilities, often far away from any support network they had formed, because the religiously-affiliated organizations they were placed with refused to provide this care.

More than 30,000 undocumented minors were apprehended at the US border in 2015, and there has been a dramatic increase in recent months. Most of the children and teenagers come from Central America, and many are risking the dangerous journey to the United States alone as a result of violence and abuse in their native countries. According to an ACLU report, about one third of the immigrants are female, and of these, reports estimate that between 60 and 80 percent have been sexually assaulted in their native countries, on their journey, or in the United States.


Office of Refugee Resettlement Fact Sheet 1/26/16; Pew Research Center Report 5/4/16; ACLU Report 6/21/16; ACLU lawsuit 6/24/16; New York Times 6/24/16

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