Alone. Afraid. Abused.
The ACLU, the ACLU of Northern California, and the ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit against the federal government for awarding millions of dollars to organizations that provide care, including access to medical care, to unaccompanied immigrant minors. The government authorizes some of these organizations to refuse on religious grounds to follow the law that requires them to provide these young people with access to contraception and abortion, even if the minor has been raped.
The suit claims that by authorizing government grantees to impose religiously based restrictions on young women’s access to reproductive health care – care that they are entitled to receive by law – the government has violated the constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state. Groups like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have been awarded upwards of $10 million to care for these young people, despite their explicit refusal to allow these young women to access contraception and abortion. Placing restrictions on reproductive health care has devastating consequences for this population. A high number of unaccompanied immigrant minors have been raped in their home countries or during their journey to the United States, and therefore they have an acute need for critical reproductive health care.
Here are the facts:
Numerous children and teens flee their home countries due to abuse, torture, or violence, and come to the U.S. on their own.
- The federal government is legally required to provide for unaccompanied minors people with basic necessities, such as housing, food, and access to emergency and routine medical care, including family planning services and abortion.
Reports indicate that between 60 and 80 percent of women and girls who cross the border are sexually assaulted.
Groups like the United Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) have been awarded upwards of $10 million to care for these girls.
- The federal government approved grants to USCCB even though it was well aware that USCCB’s agreement with its sub grantees explicitly prohibits them from providing, referring, encouraging, or in any way facilitating access to contraceptives and abortion services.
Despite the government’s assurance that USCCB would not be awarded trafficking funds, the government gave them a new contract in 2015; the ACLU is investigating that contract now.
- January 2009 ACLU asked a federal court to not allow taxpayer funds to be used to impose religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services.
- March 2012 The court ruled that a religious institution does not have the right to use taxpayer money to impose its beliefs on others.
- January 2013 Despite the government’s assurance that USCCB would not be awarded trafficking funds, the government gave them a new contract.
Stories of Young Women’s Unspeakable Harm
FOIA documents from 2010 to early 2015 document abortion requests from approximately 26 unaccompanied immigrant minors. Many of these girls had been raped either in their home country and/or on their journey to the U.S. All of them have heartbreaking stories. There are several instances in which the girl was effectively kicked out of a religiously affiliated program because she requested an abortion Below are some of their stories. Each of the below girls is assigned a pseudonym to protect their identities.
Rosa (17 years old) fled her home country in Central America, and she was raped during her journey to the United States. She learned she was pregnant when she was in U.S. government custody, and requested an abortion. She was adamant about wanting an abortion, and she said that if she could not have an abortion, she would kill herself. She was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts, but the federally funded program she was in, run by Catholic Charities, refused to accept her back after the hospitalization because she was seeking an abortion. Another religiously affiliated grantee also refused to accept her because of her request for an abortion.
Maria was 14 years old when she fled her home country in Central America. She was physically abused by her maternal grandmother, and her parents threatened her with physical discipline when she lived with them. She was raped in her home country and on the journey to the U.S., where she discovered she was pregnant. She didn’t really understand what sexual intercourse was, and was very confused about what happened. Maria said that she didn’t want to be pregnant anymore. A government official looked into whether to transfer her to Florida near her family but concluded that “both of the shelters in Florida are faith-based and will not take [Maria] to have this procedure.”
Laura (17 years old) fled her home country, and discovered she was pregnant when she arrived in the U.S. Prior to learning about her pregnancy, she was experiencing hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. When she learned she was pregnant, she requested an abortion. Her siblings were on the East Coast, so the government considered transferring her to a program in Virginia, Youth for Tomorrow, but a government official rejected this possibility because it was well-known that Youth for Tomorrow would not allow Laura to access abortion because it’s a religious organization opposed to abortion.
Zoe (17 years old) left her home country together with her niece. After she and her niece arrived in the U.S., they were placed with Youth for Tomorrow, a faith-based program in Virginia. Her initial physical revealed that she was pregnant. She subsequently told her doctor that she didn’t want to have a child. Although Zoe was adjusting, participating in activities, and receiving counseling at YFT, YFT requested that she be transferred to another government-funded program where termination of pregnancy is permitted.