The XX Factor

Catholic Bishops Want to Deny Raped Migrant Girls Access to Health Care

The USCCB does not want migrants who have suffered sexual abuse to have access to pregnancy prevention. Above, undocumented immigrants await transportation to a Border Patrol facility after crossing into Texas from Mexico in 2014.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

ThinkProgress reports that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is demanding, in the name of religious freedom, the right to keep underage migrants who have been raped from accessing medical care to prevent them from becoming pregnant. In a letter sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the USCCB, which has received $22 million in federal funds to help set up group shelters to house refugees coming in over the southern border, protested a regulation requiring those who take this money to offer “unimpeded access to emergency medical treatment, crisis intervention services, emergency contraception, and sexually transmitted infections prophylaxis, in accordance with professionally accepted standards of care, where appropriate under medical or mental health professional standards.” The USCCB wants to be able to impede access to this care out of fear that some rape victims who use it might try to avoid having babies by their rapists. 

From the USCCB letter:

The deficiency is particularly evident in regard to two provisions of the interim final rule. First, the rule provides that care provider facilities must provide unaccompanied children who are victims of sexual abuse with “timely, unimpeded access to … emergency contraception….” 79 Fed. Reg. at 77798 (emphasis added). Second, the rule provides that if pregnancy results from an instance of sexual abuse, care provider facilities “must ensure that the victim receives timely and comprehensive information about all lawful pregnancy-related medical services and timely access to all lawful pregnancy-related medical services.” Id. (emphasis added). “All” lawful pregnancy-related procedures apparently includes abortion. 

As ThinkProgress notes, the regulation does not require the Catholic agencies to provide emergency contraception, much less abortion, themselves. It just requires that they do not get in the way of refugees who want that care. “Grantees that house unaccompanied children could deny services ‘on religious or moral grounds, needing only to coordinate with federal staff members who would provide the services,” Esther Yu-Hsi Lee writes. It seems the USCCB believes its religious freedom is only preserved if it can keep these girls, many of whom are fleeing political and gang violence in their home countries, from exercising personal choices over their own bodies. 

The breath-taking cruelty of this is only compounded when you consider how common being raped is for young women and girls who have migrated hundreds of miles to find some kind of safety in the United States. According to an Amnesty International report on the problem, “It is a widely held view—shared by local and international NGOs and health professionals working with migrant women—that as many as six in 10 migrant women and girls are raped.” Some smugglers demand forced sex as the “price” to be brought to the U.S. “According to some experts, the prevalence of rape is such that people smugglers may require women to have a contraceptive injection prior to the journey as a precaution against pregnancy resulting from rape,” the Amnesty International report explains.

Being raped while trying to escape political violence through a hellish journey that only ends in captivity in a refugee home is about as bad as it gets, one would think. It’s great to see religious groups stepping up to offer services to refugees. But if you’re going to take federal money to do it, the “compassion” on offer better meet minimum standards of basic human decency.