Up to 80 percent of the undocumented migrant women and girls who cross the U.S. Mexico border are raped during their crossing. Now, a coalition of religious groups who provide emergency services to migrant children and teens are arguing they shouldn't be "forced" to provide emergency contraception, abortion referral services, or any other medical care they find morally objectionable to those children.
Think Progress reports that a coalition of those religious aid groups sent a letter in late February to the federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement, objecting to a proposed rule that would specify they need to provide timely and appropriate medical services to the children in their care. The groups are some of the largest in the country: World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, World Relief, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here's the bulk of their objection, from the 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.
The text of the rule includes no religious or moral exception.
In other words, the religious groups are happy to provide medical care, as long as it isn't anything they find icky, like Plan B or abortion. They're asking for a pretty sizeable loophole here: what if they decide that post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV is Jesus-unfriendly? This isn't an academic question: a report from Fusion found that directors of migrant shelters estimate that 80 percent of the women and girls in their care are raped during their crossing.
The faith groups are demanding that they continue to be given federal funding even if they refuse to provide these services. Even having to provide a referral to another organization that does provide abortion or emergency contraception would be "objectionable," the letter adds, and in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which bans any law that "substantially burdens" the free exercise of religion.
As Think Progress points out, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a lengthy handbook presenting their vision for how undocumented children should be treated. It says that children who are pregnant, "medically fragile" or victims of human trafficking are cared for with "therapeutic family homes and group homes."
Social worker Bertha Mendez Leyva, 32, left, listens to Esmeralda Gomez, 17, center, and Sofia Pura Perez, 16, talk about their experiences trying to cross into the United States on Thursday, May 4, 2006 in Tijuana, Mexico. The girls were in the process of being deported from the United States when the photo was taken. Image via AP