“War on Women” Increasingly Focused on Women of Color and Immigrant Women


VAWA. PRENDA. Aderholt.

What do all these words (and acronyms) have in common?

They represent the three latest attacks on women’s health, safety, and reproductive justice. However, the War on Women has been raging continuously in the 112th Congress. So what else connects these three? They represent the escalating attacks on the health and rights of women of color, and immigrant women in particular — their right to reproductive health care, their access to protections from intimate partner violence and other crimes, and their right to bodily autonomy.

Let’s start with the most recent affront: the Aderholt amendment. Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 5855), which includes a provision (Aderholt Amendment) that targets immigrant women’s reproductive health care with unnecessary and mean-spirited restrictions on access to abortion. The provision prohibits federal funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to provide abortion care for women in ICE detention centers — adding yet another layer to the harmful restrictions the Hyde amendment already puts in place. 

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), outraged over the politicized attack on some of the most vulnerable women in our society, led an effort to unite over 50 national, state, and local organizations in opposition the provision — a group that includes reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates as well as faith-based groups, advocates for Latinos health, and groups that represent immigrants, refugees, and LGBTQ people.

In a letter to the House of Representatives, this diverse group united to express deep concern that the Aderholt amendment would take us backwards, making life harder for women in federal immigration custody. Women in detention are separated from their children, their partners, and their health care providers. They have been denied HIV medication, forced to give birth in shackles, and sexually assaulted by guards. This amendment, and any restriction on access to reproductive health care, is yet another insult and humiliation for women who are already facing terrible circumstances. Immigrant women’s health should never be used as a political bargaining chip.

However, this attack did not operate in a vacuum. It represents a variation on the theme of stripping away the rights of immigrant women, a theme which is alarming, and growing. Just last month, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4970 – a bill which claims to reauthorize the historically bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), but actually rolls back protections for immigrant women that have existed for almost 20 years. Since it was first signed into law, VAWA has been reauthorized twice. And each time, both parties worked together to advance protections for all victims, including immigrants. This time around, the House bill reversed protections for immigrant women and excluded advances included in the Senate bill for LGBTQ victims of violence.

And just last week, the House of Representatives attempted (but thankfully failed) to pass the so-called “Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act” or PRENDA which was engineered as an attack on the reproductive freedoms of women of color. The bill claims to outlaw abortion motivated by sex-selection, and would have imposed strict criminal and civil penalties on abortion care providers who fail to determine the motives of their patients. The bill was first introduced as the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act” and additionally banned abortions on the basis of race of the fetus. While the race-related language was stripped from the bill, PRENDA remained an attack on color and immigrant women under the guise of protecting women, pushed forward by legislators with little to no history of supporting gender equity.

Immigrant women deserve better than this onslaught of abuse. They are mothers, daughters, tias, workers, mentors, and valuable members of communities across this country. Their ability to access reproductive health care and  protections from violence are critical to their pursuit of a healthful life in the United State and to the promise of fairness, justice, and equal opportunity.

We urge you to join us in this call to support the lives of immigrant women. Please visit the website of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health for more information.

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.