US group wants Catholic agencies to provide abortion or abandon their state roles

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sued the US government in a bid to force Catholic agencies to choose between providing abortions for illegal immigrants and ceasing to work with the government in caring for vulnerable immigrants.

The ACLU claims that shelters run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have on religious grounds been denying reproductive care to immigrant children and teens. It is seeking access to government records on reproductive healthcare policies, claiming the USCCB is in breach of its contract with the government to provide immigrants with necessary healthcare.

Almost 60,000 unaccompanied minors entered the US illegally from Mexico last year, almost a third being young girls, most of whom had experienced sexual assault. The USCCB, which has a $73 million contract to care for such unaccompanied minors until they can reunite with a relative or face an immigration hearing, says it has successfully cared for children for years without providing contraception or abortion.

“We ensure children and youth have access to ongoing medical and social services,” it said in a statement. “This extensive health care would include, in the case of pregnancy, prenatal, labour/delivery and well-baby care. For decades, we have provided exemplary services to this vulnerable population without facilitating abortions, and despite ACLU’s extreme assertions to the contrary, the law not only permits our doing so, but protects it.”

The government has not yet officially responded to the ACLU request.