Commentary: Helping immigrants should not mean denying them care

  • Karla Gonzales Garcia and Jon O'Brien
  • Special to the American-Statesman
5:45 p.m Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 Opinion
Abortion rights activists dress as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” to protest anti-abortion bills proposed by the 85th Texas Legislature at the Capitol in May.

The immigrant community is deeply committed to the values that this country works to uphold — values that brought many of us to this nation. The idea of the United States as a beacon for those fleeing persecution is deeply held by many communities, including many of those who come to the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

The Catholic community is also called upon to take care of the most vulnerable — help the poor, heal the sick and feed the hungry. We applaud the pope and U.S. bishops for calling for greater acceptance and tolerance of migrants.

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But we must also afford migrants the right to get the comprehensive care they need with compassion and dignity —including women and young people crossing the border who face untold horrors and abuse and often need comprehensive reproductive health care.

The latest case in Texas of an unaccompanied migrant minor, “Jane Doe,” who was being denied an abortion was an affront to our values of liberty and social justice. Thankfully, a federal judge has ruled in her favor Wednesday, upholding the legal right to abortion in a resounding victory for women’s autonomy.

But “Jane Doe” is not alone in her ordeal.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, the Department of Health and Human Services has exhibited an appalling level of overreach to prevent abortions at federally funded shelters, including in cases of rape and incest. Instead of providing the services women request, they have forced migrant women to visit crisis pregnancy centers and other faith-based groups that counsel women against having abortions. In Catholic relief organizations especially — which receive your taxpayer dollars to help those in need — migrant women are routinely denied access to emergency contraception or abortion services.

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Before “Jane Doe,” there was “Rosa,” who was raped on her journey to the United States. Rosa was denied housing by a Catholic affiliated shelter because she wanted to seek an abortion. Another young immigrant woman in Florida was denied housing at a Catholic facility near her family because she sought an abortion after being assaulted. Time and again, we have forced these young women to decide between receiving the care they need and having a roof over their heads. Where is the compassion or justice in that?

How can we not be outraged as federal funds are used to persecute and deny services to the most vulnerable in their hour of need? How can we not be outraged as “religious freedom” gets redefined to discriminate against people and deny them care? How can the Catholic Church claim to be aiding migrants when it denies them the very assistance they need to heal and to move forward with their lives?

We must strongly oppose this travesty of justice. Abortion is a right — and immigration status should not determine anyone’s ability to access it. We must reclaim our social justice tradition of helping those in need without prejudice —especially women and people fleeing domestic violence, femicide and abuse.

That is who we are as people who are passionate about the rights this country affords us. That is who we are as nation that welcomes immigrants and refugees.

Gonzales Garcia is the Policy and Program Director for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. O’Brien is president of Catholics for Choice.

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