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Catholics for Choice Statement on Caring for Victims of Trafficking

January 12, 2009

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement:

“In a court case filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal court to ensure that government funds distributed through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act are not used to impose restrictions on reproductive health services that are based on religious beliefs.

“Victims of human trafficking must be ensured access to the reproductive health care they need. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act funds organizations that provide direct services to trafficking victims. However, the organization that administers these funds, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), prohibits the direct service organizations it supports with these dollars from providing the full spectrum of reproductive health services.

“The case of ACLU of Massachusetts v. Leavitt contests the government’s allocation of funds to the USCCB on the basis that taxpayer dollars should not be used to impose religious beliefs on victims of trafficking. The case provides yet another example of how sectarian religious beliefs have been privileged in the United States, especially during the past eight years. We have witnessed this in the abstinence-only earmarks included in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the recently issued refusal clause regulation and, in this case, the allocation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act funds.

“Allowing religious institutions to impose their beliefs on others using government funds not only calls into question the separation of church and state, it also puts the lives of people around the world on the line. Victims of human trafficking, people living with HIV and AIDS and patients are being denied reproductive health care that is crucial to their livelihood.

“One of the core tenets of Catholic teaching is the freedom of conscience. The Catechism states that “a human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.” Unfortunately, often where reproductive rights are concerned, imposition of values is often favored over this freedom. For the Catholic hierarchy to lay claim to be the arbiters of any person’s good conscience is clearly disingenuous. In doing so, the right of every individual to follow her or his own conscience is gravely disrespected.

“Representing a majority of Catholics who disagree with the institutional church on issues such as abortion and contraception, Catholics for Choice believes that institutions should not seek to impose an ideology; rather, they should defer to the conscience of the individual – in this case, the victims of trafficking, when deciding what services should be offered.

“Catholics for Choice stands with the ACLU in calling for an end to this misuse of funds so that victims of trafficking can, using their individual conscience, access the reproductive health services they need.”