For Immediate Release
Bush Administration Blocks Medical Services for Immigrant Teens in US Care
ACLU Seeks Documents Outlining Government Policies on Teens' Access To Reproductive Health Services
NEW YORK - The
American Civil Liberties Union today asked a federal court to order 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, including
contraceptives and abortion. The ACLU filed today's legal papers after
ACF ignored a Freedom of Information Act request from the ACLU dated
August 19, 2008.
"Many unaccompanied teenagers come
into the U.S. fleeing abuse and torture in their home countries. Some
have been sexually abused or assaulted, or forced into prostitution,"
said Brigitte Amiri, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom
Project. "As a matter of law, the U.S. cannot deny reproductive health
care to these teenagers, and as a matter of compassion, the U.S. should
do everything it can to ensure the health, safety and well-being of
these teens that have no one else to turn to."
ACF issued the policy at issue after
the media reported in June 2008 that Commonwealth Catholic Charities of
Virginia fired four social workers who helped an unaccompanied,
undocumented 16-year-old in its custody obtain an abortion and
contraception. Commonwealth Catholic Charities receives funding through
a federal grant administered for ACF by the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops. The executive director of the Commonwealth of
Catholic Charities defended the group's actions by stating in the press
that facilitating access to abortion and contraception is "contrary to
basic teachings of the Catholic Church."
"The Administration for Children and
Families must ensure that taxpayer dollars are used to provide for the
needs of some of the most vulnerable children and teens that make it to
our shores. They are in need of our compassion and care," said Daniel
Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of
Religion and Belief. "Instead, the government appears to be allowing
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its subcontractors to use
federal dollars to impose their religious beliefs on teenagers from a
wide range of religious backgrounds who have very few, if any,
opportunities to obtain the necessary care on their own."
The ACLU is seeking documents from
ACF to determine the extent of the violations and assess any further
steps needed to guarantee that unaccompanied refugee and undocumented
teens can get the services they need and that the federal government
ensures that taxpayer dollars are not being used to impose one
particular religious belief.
The policies at issue may impact a
range of critical and even life-saving services administered through a
variety of federally funded social service programs. Today's legal
papers note, for example, that a nurse employed by a Catholic Charities
in Texas routinely provided information to her patients about the use
of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV as part of a federally
funded HIV program. After the U.S. Conference of Catholic Charities
reiterated its policy following the June 2008 incident involving a teen
in Virginia, press reports note that the nurse lost her job when she
refused to deny her patients this critical information.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops contracts with Catholic Charities to provide care to refugee
and undocumented teenagers in a number of states across the country,
including California, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, New
York, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
Lawyers on today's case, ACLUF v. Department of Health and Human Services,
include Amiri with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Mach with the
ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief; Rose A. Saxe with the
ACLU AIDS Project; Rebecca K. Glenberg and Hope R. Amezquita with the
ACLU of Virginia Foundation; and Ami Sanghvi and Galen Sherwin with the
New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation.
A copy of today's complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, is available online at: www.aclu.org/