House votes to condemn alleged hysterectomies on migrant women

Bonnie Cash

The House adopted a resolution on Friday to formally condemn the alleged forced medical procedures, including hysterectomies, on migrant women detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia.

The resolution, which passed 232-157, with 4 lawmakers voting “present,” condemns “performing unwanted, unnecessary medical procedures on individuals without their full, informed consent” and calls for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to comply with investigations into the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga. 

Seven Republicans voted with Democrats in support of the resolution, while Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) voted “present.”

A whistleblower complaint filed by a nurse at the detention center reported “jarring medical neglect” and alleged “high rates of hysterectomies done to immigrant women.” It also alleged that ICE did not test migrants who had been exposed to COVID-19 or had symptoms.

DHS opened an investigation into the allegations last month. 

“This is about full or partial sterilization and a total lack of consent from the patient,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the author of the resolution, said during House floor debate.

Jayapal noted that 10 lawmakers visited the detention facility last weekend and spoke directly to women who had been impacted.

“We saw their pain and shock and horror about the irreparable damage that has been done to them and their futures,” Jayapal said.

The resolution adopted by the House further states that the chamber “recognizes that everyone deserves to control their own reproductive choices and make informed choices about their bodies.” 

It also calls on DHS to pause the removal of any individual who underwent any procedure at the Irwin County Detention Center and allow individuals who received alleged unnecessary or nonconsensual procedures to be granted “immediate” access to medical treatment or seek a second opinion.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) argued during floor debate that lawmakers should wait for an investigation to conclude before adopting the resolution condemning the allegations.

“I would ask the House this very simple question: wouldn’t it be better to let the investigation take its course, have all the facts laid out before us, and then take appropriate actions?” McClintock said.

“If the allegations are true, every bit of the indignation expressed in this resolution and by my Democratic colleagues would be justified. And a united bipartisan would demand and command redress and reform. But if the allegations are found not to be true, this House that is already plumbing the depths of public ridicule and derision will once again have diminished its credibility and moral authority to speak out on this or any other issue.”

ICE has acknowledged that two hysterectomies were performed on women detained at the Irwin County center in the past three years. 

The New York Times in a report published this week interviewed 16 women who were concerned about the gynecological care they received while at the detention center. 

Independent gynecologists who reviewed the available medical files concluded that the gynecologist involved in the migrant women’s cases routinely overstated the risks involved with cysts or masses and recommended surgical intervention even though it did not appear to be necessary. 

At least one woman said she originally received a medical exam for an unrelated issue that then became a vaginal exam. The doctor recorded that the woman had cysts in her ovaries and scheduled a surgery to remove them, even though pathology reports showed that she didn’t have dangerous cysts. 

Tags Daniel Lipinski gynecological surgery ICE detention centers Immigration Justin Amash ovarian cysts Pramila Jayapal Tom McClintock
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