Immigrant Rights and Reproductive Justice: U.S. Policy is “No-Choice”


Last week, the ACLU sought a court order to force the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to release documents outlining U.S. policy limiting refugee and undocumented teenagers’ access to important reproductive health services. According to the complaint, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request to uncover the details of these policies in August, but has received no response. The FOIA request was triggered by news that in June 2008 the Commonwealth Catholic Charities of Virginia—an ACF grantee—fired four social workers who helped an unaccompanied, undocumented 16-year-old in its custody obtain an abortion and contraception. The complaint also references a Catholic Charities nurse who was fired after she refused to deny her patients information about condoms.

According to the complaint, the ACF’s policies apply to both unaccompanied, undocumented minors and unaccompanied refugee children—many of whom speak little to no English and are detained in jail-like facilities until they are deported, reunited with family in the U.S., or obtain asylum in the U.S., as circumstances warrant.

Reproductive justice demands that minors are given medically accurate information about sex and sexuality and have access to reproductive services. These policies are especially unconscionable considering the vulnerability of the populations affected. As the ACLU put it, “[these minors] are in need of our compassion and care,” not the imposition of religious beliefs that may not match their own. It is maddening that grantees of federal funds who are supposed to provide at-risk minors with necessary services and care are allowed to operate under “the basic teachings of the Catholic Church” rather than to provide medically necessary and legally required reproductive care.


The ACLU’s complaint reminded me of the news in September that women immigrants are now required to receive the HPV vaccine, Gardasil in order to become citizens—a requirement not imposed on male immigrants or current U.S. citizens.

Critics have commented that this is another example of the government using vulnerable populations as human lab rats to test new reproductive technologies. And, I can’t help but notice the double-standard imposed on immigrant women when it comes to the supposed “encouragement” of sexual promiscuity that mandating this vaccine would entail. (You’ll recall, many social conservatives were concerned that vaccinating girls against HPV would conflict with their abstinence-only-until-marriage-or-else message.) I think that this double standard sends a message that only certain groups are worth government “protection”—as a post at Feministing put it, “I guess they don’t care about these things when it comes to immigrant women.”

Personally, I don’t feel that Gardasil has been on the market long enough to be mandated to any group. In fact, the lead researcher in the development of the HPV virus vaccine, Dr. Diane Harper, said that Gardasil “has not been out long enough for us to have post-marketing surveillance to really understand what all of the potential side effects are going to be.” (And while we’re at it, let’s keep studying the effects of the vaccine on boys and men. If we’re going to make the vaccine mandatory, it should be for both sexes.) The Gardasil mandate for immigrant women, coupled with the recent news of alarming domestic policies regarding undocumented and refugee minors’ access to reproductive services, signals the importance of continuing to build and sustain a movement that addresses the intersections between immigration status, class, and access to health care.

-Amanda Allen