ACLU Sues Government over Catholic Aid Program

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

The Church’s refusal to work with organizations that provide abortion and/or contraceptive services to victims of human trafficking has provoked a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

According to a report by the Catholic News Agency (CNA), the accusations made by the ACLU are leveled against the federal government and claim that a contract it granted to the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops (USCCB) to help victims of human trafficking allows the bishops to force their beliefs on those they serve.

The ACLU’s Director of Litigation, Daniel Mach, argues that the Bush Administration allowed the USCCB to “to impose its religious beliefs on trafficking victims by prohibiting sub grantees from ensuring access to services like emergency contraception, condoms, and abortion care.”

As part of their agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services to help trafficking victims, the USCCB stipulated that they would not work with subcontractors who provide abortion services or contraceptives, since both are contrary to Catholic teaching.

The federal government estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people — mostly women — are brought into the United States each year and exploited for labor, often prostitution. Through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law passed by Congress in 2000, the federal government distributes money to cover services needed by victims of severe forms of trafficking.

The ACLU claims that the bishops’ conference was awarded $6 million to assist the victims, but Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the USCCB told Reuters that although that amount was authorized, “far less” money had been appropriated.
“The problem of trafficking in this country is huge and serious and the Catholic Church has the best network of services bar none,” she said. “Going to the Catholic Church for social services is very logical.”

She also vowed to continue to provide “those services in the contract that are consistent with our belief in the life and dignity of the human person.”

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