As the country waits for the Supreme Court’s final decision on Roe v. Wade, the plight of accessing abortion care for undocumented people and noncitizens will only become more challenging. Reproductive advocates say noncitizens have already been living in a post-Roe world where they don’t have the regular protections beyond Roe that would guarantee them access to fair salaries, paid time off, affordable child care, and affordable health care. If Roe falls, half the country is expected to outlaw abortions, meaning people seeking abortion care in those states will need time and financial support to access care across state lines.
Undocumented people, immigrants, and people who are seeking refuge or asylum in the U.S. already face barriers to accessing any type of health care. The U.S. has substantial roadblocks to accessing health care for undocumented people and noncitizens, who are not eligible for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or to purchase coverage through the ACA marketplace. Undocumented people make up 3.2% of the U.S. population, which means millions of people lack financial support for abortion costs. For noncitizens who are simultaneously seeking abortion care, this exacerbates an already unfair and grueling system, forcing many into unwanted pregnancies. If the Supreme Court strikes down Roe, reproductive advocates say this will complicate things further for noncitizens.
“It’s not disingenuous to say that they are already living in a post-Roe world,” said Rosa Valderrama, senior public affairs and communications associate for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. “Our undocumented communities are starting at such an uneven playing field that many of them will just be forced to remain pregnant and give birth against their will.”
According to an analysis of the 2019 American Community Survey by Guttmacher, higher proportions of noncitizens of every race and ethnicity were uninsured compared to U.S.-born and naturalized counterparts. For undocumented people, this means they will have to pay $500-750 or more for the procedure out of pocket, a deep financial burden when nearly half earn less than 200% of the minimum wage.
“Given all of the restrictions and bans in over half of the states in this country that are so hostile toward abortion care, we see that the most vulnerable people in our communities, and that certainly includes folks without documentation, have to navigate through a multitude of obstacles that the rest of the folks in this country don’t have to deal with,” Valderrama said.
Logistically, many noncitizens do not have access to a state ID or a driver’s license, which is required at abortion clinics. People who live in border communities, such as the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, will need to travel out of state to access care and pass mandatory border patrol checkpoints—risking detainment and deportation. According to Cathy Torres, the organizing manager at Frontera Fund, an abortion fund in the Rio Grande Valley that supports people regardless of immigration status, Border Patrol agents will stop cars, encircle them with dogs, and ask if passengers are U.S. citizens. Passengers are then forced to disclose their status, and if the agent does not believe them, they can be detained. If you do not have documents on you at the time, they can also detain you.
“Imagine having to go through that as an undocumented person who was pregnant and doesn’t want to be,” Torres said. “That means that they are forced into parenthood because they cannot leave Texas, or they risk deportation because they know that they have to go through [a border patrol checkpoint], but they just also know that they cannot be pregnant. That’s the reality for undocumented people, living in border communities.”
Though health care providers have no legal obligation to report someone’s immigration status and physicians can’t deny someone medical care over their citizenship, ICE and Border Patrol have waited outside of reproductive health clinics to arrest undocumented people in the past when they go to clinics for checkups, birth control, and abortions.
For undocumented people, the fear of detainment and deportation can prevent them from accessing care altogether.
“Showing up for a medical appointment or even going to a hospital or an emergency room without valid identification can be an obstacle and create so much fear that some of our undocumented folks just decide to forego care altogether,” Valderrama said. “When we’re talking about abortion care, those obstacles become higher.”
Valderrama and Torres say it is more important than ever to connect with immigrant justice organizations to discuss the intersection of abortion rights and immigrant justice to help people get to where they need to go safely. Valderrama would like to see the federal government take immediate measures to ensure federal protections for abortion care so that state legislatures that have been going against the will of the people of their states for over a decade can’t outlaw abortion and criminalize communities.
“Forced pregnancy is a violation of our human rights and dignity,” Valderrama said. “Everyone has the fundamental human right to decide if they want to become a parent and to do so on their own terms, and that includes people living in this country without documentation. Undocumented communities continuously face assaults on their human rights and their dignity, and this is just one more manifestation of what they have to deal with.”
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