This administration’s plowing over religious liberty and conscience rights affects more than taxpaying Americans opposed to federal funds — and their private, religious institution — offering coverage of abortion, contraception, and other services. Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina is suing Kathleen Sebelius, as you know from my conversation with Mark Reinzi, over just that. And then there are the victims of sex trafficking.
As the Washington Post has reported, senior political appointees as this Department of Heath and Human Services chose to end funding of a program serving victims of sex trafficking operated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, over the recommendations of professional staff there.
Particularly in the case of this sex-trafficking contract, concern over the actions of this HHS are far from being only a religious-liberty issue and certainly not just a Catholic issue — or, well, hang-ups about sexual morality some of us have (taking my cue from Pastor Pelosi). As Steve Wagner, a director of the HHS human-trafficking program, currently president of the Renewal Forum, writes today:
The Church’s victims’ services program is not the only faith-based agency affected by HHS’ new requirement that victims receive the “full range of family-planning services,” including abortions and contraception. The Salvation Army — a huge presence in the trafficking-services arena — and the expanding membership of the Christian Trafficking Shelter Association also will undoubtedly decline to participate in the HHS program. Instead of expanding the pool of organizations working to “rescue and restore” victims of human trafficking, Kathleen Sebelius is advancing a policy that will diminish the reach of these vital services. But that’s okay with our secretary of Health and Human Services who holds that the “positive good” of abortion trumps all other considerations.
This dispute isn’t simply about the morality of abortion in general; it is about the specific harm inflicted on victims of human trafficking by the Sebelius policy. Not only is she creating a disincentive for organizations to serve victims where once there had been an open door; her policy will visit additional harm on the victims. In fact, to provide abortions or regimes of contraception to a person currently being exploited for commercial sex might very well be a death sentence.
Wagner gets into what the life of a juvenile exploited by the commercial sex industry is like. It’s not pretty — or Pretty Woman, as he puts it. And to Madam Secretary:
If someone is being trafficked — which is to say, under the domination of a pimp/trafficker — she is by definition unable to provide informed consent to an abortion or to a regime of contraception. The victim has no voice in this decision. Indeed, providing such services to a victim of sexual trafficking benefits only the trafficker by getting the victim back out on the street and making money sooner.
The average age of entry into commercial sex exploitation is about 14. The average life expectancy of someone in commercial sexual exploitation is seven years. Start at 14, dead by 21. The mortality rate for someone in commercial sexual exploitation is 40 times higher than for a non-exploited person of the same age. Helping a victim return to exploitation more quickly by terminating a pregnancy increases the odds of death.
Kristy Childs is a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation and the founder of Veronica’s Voice, an organization in Kansas City that rescues victims. She tells me there have been many live births among her clients over the past 12 years, but she has yet to be asked for help getting an abortion. “Pregnancy often leads a woman to seek rescue and a new life,” she said.
Wagner does a side-by-side:
On the one hand, we have the USCCB, which will never facilitate an abortion but will arrange to meet all of the other appropriate service needs of victims, from residence to medical and mental-health treatment. On the other hand, we have an abortion provider such as Planned Parenthood, whose staff have been videotaped as being willing to perpetuate the apparent sex slavery of a juvenile by arranging for an abortion and not reporting the suspicion of felony sex abuse of a minor to authorities. Which is acting in the authentic interests of the victim?
If the federal government is going to help fund any programs in this area, they should be funding a successful program like the one out of the bishops’ conference. And not imposing their ideological will as a prerequisite. We know you’re pro-choice, Secretary Sebelius, but how does this decision make sense in the life of a teenage sex slave?
This debate does not have to be about abortion. The Obama administration is insisting it be.