The American Civil Liberties Union has sued for records related to the federal government’s award of funds to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has routinely denied survivors of human trafficking access to critical health care because of its religious beliefs.
The suit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, seeks documents related to a $2 million federal grant awarded to the USCCB.
The ACLU said the group received taxpayer money despite a court ruling that the government had violated the Constitution by giving USCCB a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract to provide services to human trafficking survivors despite restricting their access to reproductive health services.
“We are shocked and deeply concerned to see history repeating itself with millions of taxpayer dollars funneled into the hands of a religious group that has a long history of refusing critical health care services to the most vulnerable people in their care,” ACLU senior staff attorney Brigitte Amiri stated. “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 to those who have been through unspeakable horrors. The public has a right to know what’s going on.”
Case against the Catholic Bishops
In 2009, the ACLU filed a lawsuit alleging the federal government violated the Constitution by permitting USCCB to impose its religiously-based restrictions on the types of services trafficked individuals can receive with taxpayer funds.
In 2012, a federal court ruled in favor of the ACLU.
During the course of the case, the federal government ended its relationship with USCCB. So, in 2013, an appeals court held that the case was moot.
Then the government awarded the Catholic bishops $2 million in September 2015.
More than 14,000 individuals are trafficked into the United States each year. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals are made to labor against their will through force, fraud, or coercion.
The ACLU said many women who are trafficked are raped by traffickers or their acquaintances. Some women who have been trafficked become pregnant after being raped. Denying reproductive health services and referrals for these services, further victimizes trafficked individuals.
The ACLU said obstructing access to reproductive health care for trafficking survivors is not the only situation in which the federal government allows USCCB to harm vulnerable populations.
USCCB also receives millions of taxpayer dollars to care for refugee and undocumented immigrant minors and has restricted their access to reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion, despite the high rates of sexual assault that these teens suffer.
In addition, USCCB prohibits Catholic hospitals from offering — or even discussing — certain reproductive health care services, even when those services are necessary to protect a woman’ s health or life. These hospitals also receive federal funding and are subject to government oversight. Nearly one in nine hospital beds in the country is in a Catholic facility.