You are hereHuffington Post: GOP Defends Bishops Over Grant For Sex Trafficking Victims

Huffington Post: GOP Defends Bishops Over Grant For Sex Trafficking Victims

-By Laura Bassett

December 1, 2011- House lawmakers sparred bitterly on Thursday over the Obama administration's decision to deny a group of Catholic bishops a lucrative grant because they refused to refer sex trafficking victims to a full range of reproductive services. Republicans accused the administration of being overtly anti-Catholic and promoting abortion, while Democrats said the GOP had scheduled the hearing with the sole purpose of "smearing" President Obama.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently decided not to renew a $19 million, five-year contract with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to help sex trafficking victims because the group does not refer survivors to abortion or contraception services. The three groups who received the grant instead of the bishops -- Tapestri of Atlanta, Heartland Human Care Services of Chicago and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants of Washington -- all agreed to provide victims "the full range of reproductive services" recommended by the health department.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Thursday to interrogate the health department over its decision on this one grant. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said the fact that the bishops were qualified in every other way to help sex trafficking victims proved that the administration was basing its decision entirely on a pro-abortion, anti-Catholic bias.

"The Obama administration's bias against Catholics is an affront to religious freedom and a threat to all people," he said at the hearing. "The Catholic organization was discriminated against solely because it fundamentally respects the innate value and dignity of an unborn child and refuses to be complicit in his or her violent death."

George Sheldon, Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families under HHS, told the committee that many sex trafficking victims who become pregnant following multiple traumatic rapes deserve to be at least offered the option of ending that pregnancy and procuring contraception for the future. He said that HHS clearly told all groups competing for the grant that "strong preference" would be given to those organizations that would refer victims to doctors who can provide STI treatment, family planning services and "the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care."

According to HHS, a team of reviewers looked at all the applications and determined the strengths and weaknesses of each. The USCCB initially received a higher score than the others because it had carried out its previous contract successfully and had significant experience helping sex trafficking victims. Yet it lost the contract because it failed to provide details in its application as to what reproductive health alternatives it would provide for pregnant sex trafficking victims.