Guest discusses hysterectomies on MSNBC American Voices with Alicia Menednez

Research/Study Research/Study

Broadcast and cable news largely ignored whistleblower report that immigrants in ICE facilities were given forced hysterectomies

MSNBC was the only network to give substantial coverage to the story

  • Major broadcast and cable news networks for the most part have virtually ignored reporting that immigrants kept in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities underwent forced hysterectomies. 

    On September 14, a whistleblower complaint was made to the Department of Homeland Security by the social justice nonprofit Project South claiming that “detained immigrants and ICDC nurses report high rates of hysterectomies done to immigrant women” at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) facility in Georgia, citing this as a prime example of the “jarring medical neglect” found there. The whistleblower behind the complaint, ICDC nurse Dawn Wooten, alleges that one doctor acted like a “uterus collector,” performing invasive and potentially medically unnecessary hysterectomy surgeries on patients. As The Guardian noted, some of the patients spoke only Spanish and reportedly were not made fully aware of the medical proceedings: “In many cases nurses obtained consent from patients by ‘simply Googling Spanish’, the complaint alleges.” 

    As a result of the swift political backlash from figures like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) calling for an immediate investigation, Wooten will be interviewed by the DHS inspector general. On Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf seeking “information as to what steps DHS has taken to investigate the conditions at ICDC and elsewhere.”

    From September 14 to October 1, with the exception of MSNBC, broadcast and cable news networks either reported sparingly on the reports of hysterectomies being forced on ICE detainees or did not cover them at all. Fox News, ABC News, and NBC News ignored the story entirely, while CBS spent less than 4 minutes total and CNN spent less than 30 seconds reporting on it. Although MSNBC did devote 1 hour and 42 minutes worth of coverage across both prime-time and daytime shows, the network’s reporting mostly vanished less than a week after the initial story broke. 

    This report of forced hysterectomies is part of an extensive history of documented abuse at ICE facilities and detention centers, including a record number of deaths recently reported by CNN. Broadcast and cable news have a responsibility to shed light on the continued mistreatment of immigrants under the Trump administration.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on: cable channels CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ CBS This Morning, CBS Evening News, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press for any of the terms “migrant,” “illegal,” “alien,” “ICE,” “Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” “detainee,” “women,” “Amin,” or “Rivera” or any variation of the terms “immigrant” or “immigration” within close proximity of any of the terms “surgery,” “surgical,” “cyst,” “hysterectomy,” “uterus,” “ovary,” “reproductive organ,” “menstruation,” “pelvic pain,” or “vagina” or any variation of the term “gynecology” from 4 a.m. EDT September 14 through October 1, 2020. (Dr. Ada Rivera is the medical director of the ICE Health Service Corp and Dr. Mahendra Amin is a gynecologist.) 

    We timed any mention or discussion of the allegations that ICE facilities have forced unwanted surgeries on immigrant women without their knowledge or consent. We included full segments on the issue, which we defined as instances when the issue was the stated topic of discussion or when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the issue. We also included passing mentions of the issue and teasers of upcoming segments about the issue later in the broadcast. We rounded all times to the nearest minute.