House Appropriations Committee Passes Abortion Restriction for Detained Women

This article was originally published on RH Reality Check.

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment Wednesday that could further limit immigrant women’s access to abortion care.

The Aderholt Amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, sponsored by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), has been introduced twice before in recent years. It bans the use of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) funds to pay for abortion care for detained women, except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. It would also allow ICE employees to refuse “to perform or facilitate in any way” any abortion.

This latter provision especially is dangerous, reproductive health and immigrant justice advocates say, because any ICE employee—including non-medical personnel such as a detention center employee—could refuse to transport a detained woman to obtain necessary abortion care, regardless of her reason for seeking the procedure and regardless of who was paying for it.

“We view this as a cruel, immoral, politicized attack on health-care access and decision making for pregnant immigrant women,” Natalie Camastra, policy director with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), told RH Reality Check. 

NLIRH joined 65 other organizations that support immigrant, migrant, and refugee women and their families in signing a letter opposing the amendment.

“The problems women face in detention are well documented: pregnant women may be forced to give birth in shackles, some women have been denied HIV medication, and others have been sexually assaulted by guards,” the letter reads. “This proposal would take us backward, making an already dire circumstance even more difficult for women in federal immigration custody.”

Aderholt said during the bill markup that the amendment merely “codifies” existing law that prohibits federal funds from paying for abortion care. The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funding of abortion care except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, and advocates say it discriminates against low-income women and women of color because it prohibits programs like Medicaid from paying for abortion care.

Like the Hyde Amendment, the Aderholt Amendment lacks an exception for abortions necessary to preserve a woman’s health, not just save her life. “Exceptions to abortion coverage bans are highly inconsistent across programs and over time,” Camastra said. “We argue that these exceptions … often do not secure access for those intended, and they undermine access for all women.”

Several opponents of the amendment spoke against it during the markup session for “playing politics with women’s health,” arguing that because ICE is already beholden to the coverage ban, this amendment was a showy and callous political maneuver.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) argued during the markup that ICE has never once paid for an abortion since its creation in 2003, making the amendment redundant. But, she noted, the amendment also goes beyond existing law by allowing non-medical personnel to deny a detained woman access to an abortion.

“This amendment represents a painful symbol of the disregard that anti-choice politicians express for the plight of the roughly 3,000 women held in immigration detention on any given day,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Abortion politics also entered the appropriations process earlier this month, when House Republicans blocked a motion to include incest in the list of exceptions to an abortion coverage ban in the criminal justice appropriations bill.

“Between the House’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the Obama Administration’s decision to delay review of deportation policies, there are a record number of immigrant women being detained,” Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH, said in a statement. “Today’s decision denies these women access to critical reproductive healthcare services, which will have a profound impact on many Latinas and their families.”

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