A religious group receiving millions of taxpayer dollars refuses to provide complete health care services for trafficking survivors, refugees and undocumented immigrant minors, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
ACLU attorneys sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on March 17 for access to federal records showing U.S. government funding awards to the USCCB. In 2013 alone, the Catholic organization received over $73 million in federal funding and contracts. According to the ACLU, the Catholic organization routinely denies reproductive health services to its clients because of its religious beliefs that prohibit abortion or emergency contraception.
The USCCB, a large Catholic charitable organization, does not provide direct services to clients; it subcontracts to other organizations such as Catholic Charities and secular groups. The USCCB, however, stipulates that employees of subcontractors or grantees cannot provide referrals for abortion or contraception to clients.
“The court has ruled that the federal government cannot give federal funds to those who impose their religious beliefs on others by withholding critical healthcare,” said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Brigitte Amiri in a press release.
In the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit, the ACLU is seeking documents specifically related to a $2-million federal grant awarded to the USCCB to serve trafficking survivors. The grant is for programs that provide a full range of health care, including reproductive services, for survivors.
In 2009, the ACLU filed a lawsuit alleging that federal funding to USCCB for trafficking survivors violated the Constitution’s separation of church and state. A federal district court ruled in favor of the ACLU in 2012; the government subsequently ended its relationship with USCCB and vowed that it would not contract with the organization in the future.
In 2015, however, the government awarded the USCCB that $2 million to serve trafficking survivors. “I’m hoping this latest FOIA suit will help explain what happened,” said Amiri. “The public has a right to know.”
The USCCB receives federal funding for a host of other programs that may also deny reproductive services to clients according to Amiri. The Catholic organization also oversee programs that provide health care to refugee and undocumented immigrant minors.
The ACLU filed a FOIA suit last year seeking records about federal funding for those programs, according to Amiri.
Both trafficking survivors and undocumented immigrant minors represent uniquely vulnerable populations, noted Amiri. “The government has recognized that trafficking survivors need access to reproductive health care as part of rebuilding their lives. Undocumented minors may have been raped either in their home countries or enroute to the U.S. and may very well need these services,” Amiri said.
“It’s frustrating that the government has knowingly provided funding to an organization that denies reproductive health services.”
In what it describes as a miscarriage of medicine, the ACLU reports on its website that the USCCB also prohibits Catholic hospitals from offering or discussing certain reproductive health services. According to the article, one in 10 acute care hospitals in the U.S. in 2011 were Catholic sponsored or affiliated.
USCCB leadership, however, maintains that under federal laws protecting religious freedom, they are eligible to keep their federal funding.
In the Washington Post’s “PostEverthing” 2015 Amiri wrote, “Religious freedom is a fundamental right, and we strongly support that right. But it doesn’t give the USCCB license to impose their beliefs on others and cause them harm by denying them medical care.”
A copy of the complaint can be found here.