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Catholics, Health Services Clash over Trafficking Funding

The Department of Health and Human Services pushes abortion coverage at the expense of trafficking victims.

In ongoing disputes between national Catholic groups and the federal government, victims of sex trafficking might suffer the most damage.

The Washington Postreported this week on mounting friction between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS decided in late September to end a contract underwriting the conference's service to trafficking victims. The $19 million contract, awarded to USCCB since 2006 under President Bush's faith-based funding initiative, helped provide housing and counseling to trafficking victims.

Following church teaching, USCCB had refused to refer victims to contraceptives or abortion services. HHS officials decided to award the grant to three other groups, despite some HHS staff's protests that the USCCB should continue to get funding based on its score from an independent review board. The Post reports the review board scored two of the competing groups significantly lower than USCCB.

Citing anti-Catholic discrimination, USCCB is now threatening legal action, and recently formed an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Mary Ann Walsh, USCCB's leading spokesperson, wrote on its media blog:

. . . [A]t least until now, the U.S. government sought to sincerely address the issue [of human trafficking]. It asked USCCB for help when regional programs weren't reaching victims outside the usual hotspots for trafficking. USCCB created an extraordinary program in conjunction with several partners, Christian and secular, including Lutheran Family Services, Jewish Family Services, Salvation Army, YMCA affiliates, domestic violence shelters, World Relief and others. Only one-third of its subcontractors were Catholic-affiliated, but with the USCCB infrastructure they reached virtually everywhere in the USA. . . .

Apparently HHS rules about the benefits of experience and cost effectiveness can be waived. So can rules about being fully operational by a certain date. What can't be waived is the new, albeit unwritten rule of HHS, the ABC rule – Anybody But Catholics.

The recent dispute is not the first between national Catholic bodies and HHS, most notably its August mandate requiring all private health insurers to cover abortion and contraceptives with no out-of-pocket charges or co-payments. At a heated House subcommittee meeting today on the rule, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo wrote that Catholic groups "will have no choice but to stop providing health care and other services to the needy who are not Catholic, or to stop providing health coverage to their own employees." DiNardo wrote,

Is the drive to maximize contraceptive coverage, even among those who do not want it, such an urgent national priority that it transcends concerns about religious liberty, our nation's ‘First Freedom,' as well as concerns about women's health and about access to basic health care for men and women alike?

In a National Review Onlineop-ed today, Steven Wagner charges that HHS's recent decisions will only hurt sex trafficking victims more. The HHS human trafficking program director from 2003-2006, Wagner noted:

The provision of abortions is banned by the Hyde Amendment and the provision of contraceptives is banned by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, so HHS is demanding that service providers do things which HHS cannot pay for.

Worst of all, the provision of abortions or contraception to victims of human trafficking who have not yet been rescued is tantamount to aiding and abetting the crime of exploitation. Current victims cannot, by definition, provide informed consent, so the only beneficiary is the trafficker/pimp.

For more on how U.S. Christians are helping victims of sex trafficking, visit This Is Our City, which is spotlighting trafficking all week.

Posted:November 2, 2011 at 2:41PM
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