Migrant minors need access to abortion care and they may not be getting it

Migrant women and girls being housed by ICE and other federal contractors may not be receiving the reproductive health care they need and ask for, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Earlier this month, the ACLU began the process of suing the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act, in order to find out whether teenage migrants housed with the government contractor Catholic Charities are being provided access to abortion services.

This issue is coming up as the number of people in family detention centers continues to increase, along with allegations of abuse and mistreatment within the centers. Among those complaints have been allegations of rape, and in response, the government recently proposed new regulations under the Prison Rape Elimination Act which would require that detained victims of rape be provided abortion and contraceptive services.

However, Catholic Charities, one of the organizations with a federal contract to provide care for migrant minors and which is run by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has come out strongly opposing any regulations that would require them to allow pregnant migrants get abortions. This suggests that they have not been providing such services to asylum seekers all this time, in spite of the fact that they are required as government contractors to provide health care to detainees. (In previous government contracts, USCCB has refused to provide reproductive health care to trafficking victims.) The ACLU is suing in order to find out whether whether this is the case.

But it’s important to note that people seeking asylum might be pregnant for many reasons other than being raped in detention. The journey North is notoriously dangerous for women, with a shocking 80 percent being being raped along the way. And even if a woman arrived in the US pregnant as a result of consensual sex, the multiple marginalizations that many migrants experience being poor and brown makes accessing contraception very difficult.

Detainees and asylum seekers deserve bodily safety and autonomy, no matter the cause of their pregnancy, or the state of their legal status, and in spite of the completely inhumane and deeply flawed system they are caught up in. The ability to make decisions for one’s own body and health is a human right that our country must provide to everyone, even while it denies migrants of their freedom and dignity.

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Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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