October 5, 2020
By Sonya Googins

A woman’s autonomy over her own body should not be a privilege reserved for the lucky few, but a universal right. Unfortunately, this right has been denied time and time again to migrant women by the unlawful actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Amidst recent allegations of forced hysterectomies sponsored by ICE, we’re reminded of the many similar incidents where migrant women were stripped of bodily autonomy. In 2017, Scott Lloyd, now ex-director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), denied a 17 year old Jane Doe the transportation necessary to receive her abortion-- even when she had obtained legal permission to have the procedure done, and had the necessary private funds to pay for it.

Only a few years later, we now hear about the whistleblower, Dawn Wooten-- a nurse practitioner at the facility in question-- who filed a complaint about a history of medical malpractice at an ICE facility in Irwin County. This complaint brought serious allegations to light of the performance of hysterectomies without consent of multiple migrant women.

To put the appalling nature of these claims into perspective: CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez reports that according to Dr. Ada Rivera, the medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, only two people have been referred by specialists for hysterectomies-- where the procedure was evaluated and approved by official medical authorities-- since 2018. Despite this fact, Priyanka Bhatt, a staff attorney at social justice organization Project South, explains that "our coalition has heard from several women who have either had a hysterectomy done or have talked to other immigrants who have had a hysterectomy done."


None of these alleged hysterectomies are on record, which appears to be an inadvertent admission of guilt by the ICE facility in and of itself. The execution of these procedures without women's knowledge or consent is a gross violation of the rights these women have over their own bodies on US soil.

"When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they're experimenting with our bodies," said an anonymous immigrant who spoke with Project South. Performing these life-altering surgeries without a patient’s consent is absolutely appalling, and it follows a US history of forced sterilization of minorities that dates back to the early 20th century-- a reality that is often overlooked.

Fortunately, with regards to the case brought against ORR by the ACLU in representing the young Jane Doe, some justice has been served. The ACLU represented many other minor migrant women who were not being given access to abortion services that they requested. In individual cases they restored the women’s rights to abortion services, and according to the Deputy Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Brigitte Amiri, the formation of a class action lawsuit successfully suspended the unlawful ORR policies on abortion access throughout the duration of the case.

In looking at this victory for immigrant women and the successful protection of their reproductive rights, we hope to see a similar outcome for those who may have been so horribly wronged at these ICE facilities. We look at these coming months with the hope that further investigations will reveal the truth and that those responsible for these irreparable actions will be held accountable.

Edited by Bella Perreira