Undocumented and under-resourced: we must address the lack of accessible reproductive healthcare at the border

Policies at the border keep pregnant folks from seeking the care they need.

Reproductive freedom is enshrined in the idea that everyone, regardless of immigration status, zip code, or income should be able to access affordable, dignified reproductive healthcare. Across the US and at the border, undocumented folks face a lack of access to safe and timely reproductive healthcare, which often results in their suffering, exploitation, and even death. A reproductive freedom future means a future where undocumented folks can seek healthcare access freely and safely, and live and raise a family without being threatened by their undocumented status.

Undocumented individuals of reproductive age at the border and across the United States face many challenges, one of them being access to reproductive healthcare (such as abortion, sexual wellness care, birth control, miscarriage care, and birth and pregnancy care). Historically, undocumented folks have been undermined by the Pro-Choice and other movements, even though barriers to care continue to grow, threatening the well-being and safety of anyone who is both undocumented and can become pregnant.

Being undocumented means having less access to reproductive healthcare services in the United States. Healthcare insurance is for citizens only. As of 2021, undocumented folks were three times more likely to not have health insurance, since legislation like the Affordable Care Act doesn’t allow any undocumented folks to purchase public insurance on state or federal health exchanges. This makes seeking abortion and reproductive healthcare is challenging. Undocumented folks also risk the threat of being detained in some healthcare settings if their undocumented status is revealed or found out.

Abortion access is rarely within reach for undocumented folks due to restrictions. Because of the Hyde amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion, many undocumented people are forced to pay out of pocket when seeking abortion care, which is especially difficult if they are also low-income. And, because of Texas’ recently passed SB8 abortion ban, it is even harder to access abortion within the strict six-week cutoff for many undocumented folks in Texas or who are being detained at the US/Mexico border.

Some of the most vulnerable undocumented folks are those being detained at the border, as they face reproductive oppression, the risk of sexual assault from border officers, and are subject to state monitoring of their reproduction. All detainees in ICE custody with a uterus are administered pregnancy tests upon arrival, and many are refused abortions, have their periods documented, and are sexually abused and assaulted by border patrol. Border officers have been caught refusing to give care to folks who are miscarrying, and even blamed one pregnant person for their miscarriage.

We must advocate for policies that mend this injustice and allow all undocumented folks access to dignified, accessible abortion and reproductive healthcare. America must introduce policies that protect undocumented folks from being detained when seeking healthcare or essential services. American lawmakers should also eliminate the Hyde amendment to make abortion care more affordable to undocumented folks.

A good first start is to eliminate the Hyde amendment to make abortion care more affordable to undocumented folks. Black, transgender, and non-binary undocumented folks must be at the forefront of our advocacy and policy work. Congress must propose more accessible paths to citizenship, and expand Medicaid benefits to undocumented folks. States should also be able to create their own healthcare policies which allow undocumented folks to seek better reproductive and healthcare services, with affordable and accessible services (such as translators). In addition, border patrol agents and officials should be held accountable for the misdeeds and violence they have committed against undocumented folks.

Better access to abortion and reproductive care are essential practices for ensuring undocumented folks can seek care in a timely manner without fear of being deported or treated badly. Until we have eliminated the harmful structures that perpetuate this violence at the border and beyond, reproductive freedom can never be achieved. There is lots of hope that eventually, we can get to a future where ALL undocumented folks can seek dignified, accessible, affordable abortion and reproductive care.

References

Bhasin, A. (2021). A Systemic Failure: Immigrant Moms and Babies Are Being Denied Health

Care. Retrieved from: http://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/health/moms-and-babies/immigrant-moms-and-babies-denied.html

Fleming, P. J., & LeBrón, A.,M.W. (2020). Historical and contemporary reproductive injustices

at the border and beyond. American Journal of Public Health, 110(3), 273–274. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305517

Hernandez, L. H., & Upton, S.D.L.S. (2019). Insider/Outsiders, Reproductive (In)justice, and the

U.S.-Mexico Border. Health Communication, 35(8). doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2019.1602819

Marcus Delgado, J., & Caivano, J. (November 13, 2020). Stop Violating Immigrant Women’s

Reproductive Rights. Ms. Magazine. Retrieved from: https://msmagazine.com/2020/11/13/immigrant-womens-reproductive-rights-abuse-trump/

Black Reproductive Policy Agenda. (2021). https://blackrj.org/blackrjpolicy/

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The political leader of the pro-choice movement in Maryland.

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NARAL Pro-Choice MD

NARAL Pro-Choice MD

The political leader of the pro-choice movement in Maryland.

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