‘Unfair and Politicized’ Anti-Sex-Trafficking Grant Process

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

The Obama administration is punishing victims of sex slavery because of its radical “reproductive rights” agenda. 

The Washington Post reports on an anti-sex-trafficking funding contract that was killed by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year. It involved an effective coalition (including groups like the Salvation Army) directed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services office. The contract was eliminated as the HHS announced that priority would be given to groups that would make available “family-planning services and the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.” 

As the Post article puts it: 

This spring, as the contract approached its expiration, HHS political appointees became involved in reshaping the request for proposals, adding a “strong preference” for applicants offering referrals for family planning and the “full range” of “gynecological and obstetric care.’’ That would include abortions and birth control; federal funds cannot be used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.

The Post piece further explains: 

In the case of the trafficking contract, senior political appointees at HHS stepped in to award the new grants to the bishops’ competitors, overriding an independent review board and career staffers who had recommended that the bishops be funded again, according to federal officials and internal HHS documents. That happened as the ACLU suit is preceding before a federal judge in Boston.

The decision not to fund the bishops this time has caused controversy inside HHS. A number of career officials refused to sign documents connected to the grant, feeling that the process was unfair and politicized, individuals familiar with the matter said. Their concerns have been reported to the HHS inspector general’s office. 

HHS policies spell out that career officials usually oversee grant competitions and select the winners, giving priority consideration to the review board’s judgment. The policies do not prohibit political appointees from getting involved, though current and former employees said it is unusual, especially for high-level officials.

There is an American Civil Liberties Union-lawsuit backstory to the death of the grant. Also from the Post:

The trafficking contract was aimed at providing housing, counseling and other services to trafficking victims who are held in workplaces through force or fraud. It was first awarded in 2006, after a controversial decision by the George W. Bush administration to direct more federal social service contracts to faith-based groups. The contract ultimately provided the Catholic bishops with more than $19 million to oversee those services.

At the time, several members of the federal review board assessing the bidders raised concerns that the Catholic group would not refer victims for abortions or contraceptives, according to documents in the ACLU lawsuit. The documents said the board still ranked the Catholic group far above other applicants.

The ACLU, in the lawsuit it filed in U.S. District Court in Boston in 2009, argued that many women are raped by their traffickers and don’t speak English, making it hard for them to find reproductive services without help.

While the bishops’ organization would not refer women directly, it allowed subcontractors to arrange for the services, but it refused to reimburse the subcontractors with federal dollars.

“The principle of church teaching is that all sexual encounters be open to life,’’ said Walsh, of the bishops conference. “It’s not a minor matter; this is intrinsic to our Catholic beliefs.’’

The ACLU lawsuit argued that HHS allowed the Catholic group to impose its beliefs. But in defending the contract on behalf of HHS, Justice Department lawyers argued that the contract was constitutional and that the bishops had been “resoundingly successful in increasing assistance to victims of human trafficking.’’

The decision isn’t the first troubling signal this administration’s HHS Department has sent to Americans with conscience objections to funding contraception – and abortion —  as if we are talking about the most basic and non-controversial of medical care. First we learned you’d have to provide and pay for it, regardless of what you believe, as part of Obamacare. Now we learn that effective programs saving the lives of slaves are unworthy of American taxpayer funding unless they’ve bought into a specific worldview about human dignity and sexuality.

And here, again, we’re not talking about just anyone’s “planning” choices. We’re talking about victims of sex trafficking.

And, not for the first time, it’s worth considering that, as a practical matter, condoms are certainly not the only, and may not be the best approach to the problem.  

As Steve Wagner, president of the Renewal Forum and former director of the human-trafficking program at the Department of Health and Human Services, has put it: “Victims being trafficked right now cannot provide informed consent to an abortion or a regime of contraception because they are under the control of a trafficker. If you do provide these services, all you are doing is perpetuating modern-day sex slavery.” 

The Washington Post piece is alarming and calls for further investigation. It also is clarifying about a common point of (often purposeful) confusion: The Hyde Amendment is not an all-purpose prohibition on abortion funding throughout the federal government. 

UPDATE: More here