April 3, 2015

ACLU Files Lawsuit to Investigate Scope of the Problem and Government’s Role in Denying Care

April 3, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union will ask a federal court to order the federal government to release documents related to how groups that are awarded government funding contracts are restricting refugee and undocumented immigrant teenagers' access to reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant minors cross the U.S. border each year, many of whom are teenagers. The U.S. government has committed to providing services to meet the basic needs of these teens. Reports indicate that between 60 and 80 percent of women and girls who cross the border are sexually assaulted.

Various groups, including religious organizations, contract with the government and receive federal funding to provide these teens with day-to-day care, including health care. Some of these organizations impose their religious beliefs on these teens by denying them access to contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion. 

"Many unaccompanied teenagers come into the U.S. fleeing abuse and torture in their home countries. Many have been sexually abused or assaulted or forced into prostitution," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “We believe deeply in religious freedom. But religious freedom does not include the right to take a government contract that requires providing access to health care, and then refuse to provide a teen who has been raped the health care she needs."

Recently, the federal government released proposed regulations requiring federal contractors who care for unaccompanied minors to provide access to contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion if a teen has been raped. In response, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of the groups that received a government-funded contract to provide care to these teens, said any requirement that they provide information about contraception or abortion, even a referral or the arrangement for such services, would violate their religious freedom.

USCCB argues that its religious beliefs should allow it to violate the terms of the contract. 

Reports from workers interacting with these teens indicate that, because of USCCB’s refusals, teens are not getting the care they need. Reports also indicate that some organizations are using their religious beliefs to force teens to leave their program, uprooting the teen from familiar surroundings and the lifeline of their social worker, if they need reproductive care.

The ACLU has requested documents to determine the full scope of this problem and is filing this lawsuit after the Administration for Children and Families largely ignored the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act request for over six months.

The government contracts with and provides funding to USCCB through Catholic Charities to provide care to refugee and undocumented minors in a number of states across the country – including Arizona, California, Florida, New York, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. USCCB prohibits its subcontractors from providing or referring for vital services like abortion and contraception. 

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