By Jeanne Monahan
Jerry Markon reported in the Washington Post recently that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will no longer be the primary recipient of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ human trafficking grant funding. HHS made this decision despite the fact that USCCB received the highest grant proposal score and was recommended by career HHS staff. For the past five years the USCCB has received the grant award to provide necessary services such as medical care, food and clothing to over 2,700 victims of human trafficking.
According to HHS, the funding decision was simply a matter of choosing the best proposal. “[G]rantees were awarded funding through a competitive grant process to provide comprehensive case management services for human trafficking victims through the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program.” “[C]ompetitive grant process is used across the government and allows federal agencies to consider a broad range of potential applicants and select those that can deliver services most effectively and efficiently.”
The new funding announcement included language indicating that strong preference would be given to groups that provide “family planning services and the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.” Given the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and contraception it could appear that the grant announcement was written in a way that would purposefully exclude the USCCB, despite their proven track record in helping trafficked persons.
The issue of human trafficking and abortion was in court even as recently as a month ago. In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts sued HHS for not forcing the Catholic group to include referrals for abortion and contraception in the anti-trafficking program. Gauging from the latest funding announcement the ACLU seems to have influenced the Obama administration.
This would not be the first time the Obama administration received support and help from the ACLU on matters related to religious discrimination, abortion and contraception. Only a few months ago the Obama administration issued the now much publicized and controversial interim final rule forcing all health plans to cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives with no co-pay. Included in the rule was a very narrow conscience exemption for religious groups, originally drafted by the ACLU.
In the end, if abortion politics are the real reason behind the Obama administration’s decision to not fund the USCCB, women who have already suffered the plight of human trafficking will be victims twice over. Evidence exists that shows women who seek an abortion after rape add to their suffering: they now struggle with the coupled pain of the rape and the abortion; the abortion can become what some have termed “a second rape.”
Additionally, a recent peer-reviewed meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry revealed that women who choose abortion have a significant increase in mental health problems including depression, anxiety and suicidal behaviors. A situation where a woman is trafficked and becomes pregnant is extremely difficult, but such women deserve loving and honest care and attention, and abortion is not part of that.
The Bishop’s conference has expressed hope that the Catholic Church’s “position against abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception has not entered into this decision … especially since this administration has said it stands fully behind freedom of conscience.”
Let us hope and, daresay, pray, that for the sake of these women who have already suffered untold violence this is indeed the case.
Jeanne Monahan, who formerly worked at the Department of Health and Human Services, is Director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.