By Sarah Lipton-Lubet, Policy Counsel, Washington Legislative Office
Slavery. It’s an abomination. And it goes without saying that survivors of modern-day slavery — human trafficking — should be able to access all of the services they need to protect their health and rebuild their lives. That is, unless you’re talking to the powerful political lobbyist, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
They’re raising a ruckus about so-called anti-Catholic bias because they weren’t given a grant by the Department of Health and Human Services for aid to trafficking victims. Why? Because they refuse to allow sub-grantees (the bishops are middlemen here, regranting the money to on-the-ground service providers) to offer access to contraception and abortion to trafficked women. Women who have been raped repeatedly and controlled by their traffickers. Women who urgently need reproductive health care and the power to make their own decisions and retake command of their own lives.
But that’s not stopping the bishops and their politically connected friends from expressing “false outrage over non-existent discrimination,” as Religion Dispatches’ Sarah Posner aptly points out. Posner exposes the basic flaw in the bishops’ premise: it’s not about them.
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“The USCCB not getting taxpayer money doesn’t mean the government is anti-Catholic. No one is just entitled to federal grants. But the beneficiaries of federally-funded services are entitled to those services free of religious directives. And for victims of sex trafficking, comprehensive reproductive health services are just what the doctor ordered.”
The bishops are wise in the ways of political messaging and want to play the victim card with anyone who disagrees with them, rather than acknowledging that in our democracy, disagreement over public policy is par for the course.
There are real victims of religious discrimination in the world. Just as there are real victims when we’re talking about the evils of human trafficking. Here’s a hint: they’re not the bishops.