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UN Human Rights Committee: U.S. Should Ensure Health Coverage for Immigrant Women

Recommendations Issued after Full Review of U.S. Record under Major Human Rights Treaty

(PRESS RELEASE) The United Nations Human Rights Committee is urging the United States to address the critical health care coverage needs for immigrant women and families. The Committee stated that the exclusion of millions of undocumented immigrants from health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, as well as the five-year waiting period for lawfully present immigrants to access Medicaid and other public insurance programs, pose barriers to health care access—including reproductive health care—that violate the human rights of millions of immigrants and their families.

The UN committee’s action was issued today in its Concluding Observations on the United States following its periodic review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The Committee called on the U.S. to review its policies that violate numerous rights under the Covenant, including the right to be free from torture and ill treatment, the right to liberty and security, the rights to privacy and protection of the family, and the right to equal protection of the laws. According to the Committee, the U.S. should “facilitate access of undocumented immigrants and immigrants residing lawfully in the U.S. for less than five years and their families to adequate health care, including reproductive health care services.”

Said Katrina Anderson, Human Rights Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Today the Human Rights Committee called on the U.S. to make good on its commitment to upholding human rights within its own borders. 

“Federal and state policies that exclude whole communities from fair access to health care coverage is a clear violation of the fundamental human rights that the U.S. government has promised to respect and uphold. The message from the Human Rights Committee is clear—it’s time that state and federal governments stop playing politics with women’s health and lives and fulfill its human rights promises.” 

Said Lucy Felix, Texas Latina Advocacy Network Field Coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health:

“Immigrant women in my community in the Rio Grande Valley are overcoming incredible barriers and facing unimaginable risk to advocate for health care for themselves and their families. We face a number of barriers starting with lack of insurance, but also including poverty, lack of transportation, language and restrictive immigration policies. The U.S. government should help, not hinder us, in accessing the reproductive health care that is our human right.”

The HEAL Immigrant Women and Families Act, introduced on March 13 by Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), is an important first step in alleviating many of these barriers to care and human rights violations by reestablishing health coverage options and health care services for immigrant women and their families.

 The United States government, like all nations that have ratified the ICCPR, must periodically report on its progress in implementing its provisions.  The Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health provided testimony to the U.N. Human Rights Committee in Geneva on March 13th and 14th on the status of women’s human rights in the United States. The two organizations’ groundbreaking human rights report, Nuestra Voz, Nuestra Salud, Nuestro Texas: The Fight for Women’s Reproductive Health in the Rio Grande Valley, was the cornerstone of the testimony provided to the committee.

Prior to the review, the Center submitted a shadow report calling out the very serious reproductive rights issues not adequately or comprehensively addressed in the U.S. government’s periodic report to the Committee. During the review, the Committee members asked pointed questions to the 32-member U.S. delegation about the status of reproductive rights and the government’s responsibility to ensure health care access for all women. For example, Committee members asked whether the U.S. agreed that increased state restrictions on the right to abortion—which disproportionately harm poor, rural, and immigrant women—violate the rights to non-discrimination, privacy, and equal protection of the laws. It also noted the U.S. is the only western industrialized country without paid parental leave, which raises issues for women’s equality.