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Bishops’ Policy for Immigrant Teenagers: Sorry You Were Raped, but We Won’t Help You

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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April 6, 2015

This piece originally appeared at The Washington Post’s PostEverything.

Indiana isn’t the only place where people want to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against others. Currently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops receives millions of dollars from the federal government to provide care to the surge of children and teenagers who have crossed the U.S. border alone, often fleeing torture and abuse in their home countries. These are some of the most vulnerable people in the United States, and their journeys are often terrifying, particularly for girls and women, up to 80 percent of whom are sexually assaulted. Nevertheless, the bishops refuse to provide teens with critical reproductive health care — such as emergency contraception and abortion — as required by U.S. law.

The Catholic organization insists that laws protecting religious freedom mean that the government must continue to award it millions of dollars in contracts — $73 million overall and $10 million to care for unaccompanied minors in 2013 alone — even though it says it won’t provide all the services stipulated in the contract and required by law.

That’s a big problem. Today, my team at the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to uncover how the bishops’ policy is working. Six months ago, we asked the government to share documents about how often religious organizations refuse to provide reproductive care — and what measures teen refugees and immigrants are forced to take to get that care. The government has not answered that request and repeated inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act. We’re suing for this important information because when you contract with the government, the public has a right to know if you’re not following the rules.

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