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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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ACLU Stumps for Abortion Rights of Young Refugees

MANHATTAN (CN) - With tens of thousands of young undocumented refugees in custody, sometimes under the care of government-contracted Catholic charities, the American Civil Liberties Union wants an answer about access to "vital reproductive health care."

"These young people are extremely vulnerable - many have come to the United States to flee abuse and torture; they have been separated from their families; and many have been sexually abused or assaulted either in their home countries or during their long journey to the United States," the 15-page complaint filed Monday states. "Some have also been trafficked for labor or prostitution in other countries or in the United States.

"Because many girls are sexually assaulted during their journey to the United States, some will inevitably need and want access to emergency contraception, and possibly abortion," it continues.

Yet groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which accepts federal grants to care for teenage refugees, "recently stated that they want the right to refuse to 'provide, facilitate the provision of, provide information about, or refer or arrange for items or procedures to which they have a religious or moral objection,' such as abortion and contraception," the complaint alleges.

The ACLU wants the Department of Health and Human Services and Administration for Children and Families to disclose documents shedding light on the problem.

"These young people are completely dependent on the government and its grantees for day-to-day care, such as clothing, food, medical care, and shelter," the complaint states.

The ACLU notes that some religiously affiliated grantees that care for these young women ignore their "vulnerability, dependence, isolation, and lack of language skills" to "deny them access to, referrals for, and information about, reproductive health care, such as contraceptives and abortion."

Restricting the mobility of these teens and closely monitoring their activities could further "traumatize these teens," and force them to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, according to the complaint.

The ACLU says that its Sept. 19, 2014, request was met with only a "partial" response of "very few documents."

"Given the vulnerability of the population and the time-sensitive nature of the health care services at issue, it is crucial that the requested documents are disclosed immediately to determine whether these teens are receiving necessary health care," the complaint states.

The group is represented by staff attorneys Brigitte Amiri and Brian Hauss.

The Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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