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Hearing on Capitol Hill Examines Federal Grant-making Standards for Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims

December 14, 2011

Bishops Demand Conscience Protections for Themselves; Ignore the Consciences of Those Trafficked

Catholics for Choice provided testimony supporting human trafficking victims’ access to reproductive healthcare to a hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform today. We are pleased that the hearing, called “HHS and the Catholic Church: Examining the Politicization of Grants,” is investigating the grant-making process. There is a real danger that something other than the well-being of trafficking victims may upstage the healthcare needs of these vulnerable women—as well as their conscience-based right to act upon those needs. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) receives over $2 billion a year in grants from the US government, but objects to the decision by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to give preference to organizations that provide information on and referrals to the full range of reproductive healthcare services when administering Trafficking Victim Services Grant Awards. Today’s hearing was called to allow the voices of those in need of the services delivered under these grants to be heard.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said, “Women who have suffered the incomprehensible physical and emotional abuses of human trafficking should be assured they may access the best possible care for combating the myriad healthcare problems that can result from continued abuse. Therefore, it is in the best interests of all that only those social service agencies committed to providing access to the full range of healthcare services do so. Women need support and compassionate care when they seek reproductive healthcare services, not judgment and disdain.

“When the USCCB and other conservative Catholic organizations request exemptions from these basic standards, however, they seek more than protection for individual conscience. In fact, they seek to denigrate individual conscience by imposing their own narrow religious views about sexuality and reproductive healthcare—views that are only shared by a tiny minority of Catholics. Permitting these organizations to keep the billions of dollars they receive from government contracts without having to adhere to the standards that apply to other groups or organizations working in the same field would be to grant the USCCB and their colleagues a pass from the requirement to play by the same rules as everybody else.

“Organizations funded by the US government must serve those in need by providing services while respecting a client’s conscience, her moral agency and her freedom to follow her own beliefs. She should also be protected from any harm that may result from the impact of religious beliefs that she may not share.”

Read the full letter to the committee here.