ACLU Sues HHS over Anti-Human Trafficking Partnership with Catholic Bishops

January 13, 2009 - 5:52 PM
Liberal legal group claims that the U.S. bishops are imposing their religious beliefs on trafficking victims by denying them access to abortion and contraception--services the Catholic Church considers to be immoral and a violation of human rights.

Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (Courtesy of Archdiocese of Chicago Web Site)

(CNSNews.com) – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Monday over its partnership with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to fight human trafficking--a modern-day form of slavery--because the bishops conference does not use the money to provide emergency contraception and abortion.
 
The liberal legal group claimed that the bishops were imposing their religious beliefs on trafficking victims by denying the controversial services, which the Catholic Church considers immoral, thereby making the government’s involvement with the conference unconstitutional.
 
“For more than two years, the Bush administration has sanctioned the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Daniel Mach, ACLU director of litigation, said in a news release announcing the suit.
 
“It has allowed the USCCB to impose its religious beliefs on trafficking victims by prohibiting sub-grantees from ensuring access to services like emergency contraception, condoms, and abortion care,” Mach added.The USCCB administers the Anti-Trafficking Per Capita Services Program for the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement. Through federal grant partnerships, the USCCB sub-contracts with local organizations to help refugees and victims of human trafficking to resettle in American cities and towns.
 
According to the program’s application kit, available on the USCCB’s Web site, subcontractors must have experience working with trafficking victims and networks with other community partners such as lawyers, mental health, and medical service providers.
 
The program also requires them to aid victims in getting residency visas, affordable housing, employment, education, and legal counsel, if necessary. Sub-contractors also assist victims with trying to reunite their families, which are often broken up as a result of trafficking.
 
The application does not mention providing abortion, emergency contraceptives, or condoms.
 
The ACLU claims that many victims of human trafficking, which includes sexual slavery, need abortion and other controversial services--which are denied them by the USCCB.
 
“Many trafficking victims experience extreme violence and sexual assault at the hands of their traffickers,” the release stated. “Some become pregnant as a result of rape and some contract sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV.”
 
The USCCB, according to its Web site, views abortion as the killing of a human being, calling it gravely immoral.
 
“Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely immoral,” the bishops state. “It is imperative that those who are called to serve the least among us give urgent attention and priority to this issue of justice.”
 
The federal government has long excluded federal funds from being used to provide abortions, including through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers women up to 19 years old. It also prohibits abortions in federal prisons, military hospitals, and for Medicare recipients.
 
The suit, filed in federal court in Boston by the Massachusetts ACLU, claims that by denying abortion and other services to trafficking victims, the bishops are further victimizing trafficked persons.
 
“Denying reproductive health services, and referral for these services, can further victimize trafficked individuals,” the complaint reads.
 
The USCCB, in a statement on human trafficking released in 2007, condemned the practice and said that it must be eliminated from the planet.
 
“The Catholic Church in the United States stands ready to work with our government to end this scourge,” the statement reads. “We cannot rest until trafficking in human persons is eliminated from the globe.”
 
Neither the ACLU nor the USCCB returned calls for comment.