Blog of Rights

Who’s Abusing Their Power? House Oversight Committee’s Show-Trial Takes HHS to Task for Helping Trafficking Victims

By Dena Sher, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Sarah Lipton-Lubet, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 6:28pm

In the upside-down, through-the looking-glass world we often find ourselves in, in our nation’s capital, today the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing “investigating” why Catholic organizations only received $650 million in grants from the Department of Health and Human Services over the last three years, instead of $650 million and change. Never mind that under this administration, as Rep. Gerry Connolly noted, Catholic groups have gotten $100 million more than under Bush. What brought on this investigation? A several million dollar grant to provide services for human trafficking victims that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops bid on, but did not receive. The bishops and their political allies are crying discrimination. As Rep. John Tierney noted this morning, I’m sure a lot of people would like to be discriminated against like that.

In explaining why this show-trial was a good use of congressional time, anti-choice crusader Rep. Chris Smith, making a special guest appearance, said that there has been an “unconscionable abuse of power.” On that, we couldn’t agree more.

Trafficking victims are often kidnapped and held against their will — an unconscionable abuse of power. Trafficking victims are often raped, beaten, and forced into prostitution — an unconscionable abuse of power. Trafficking victims are denied by their traffickers access to health care and the ability to make their own decisions — an unconscionable abuse of power.

And then, after all that they’ve suffered, they turn to social service agencies for help, only to be told that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has tied service providers’ hands — taking government money meant to aid these victims and putting their own ideological restrictions on it, forbidding service providers from using the grant to help victims access contraception and abortion services when they ask for them. At least, that was the case under a grant awarded to the bishops by the Bush Administration.

That grant expired in October, and when HHS took applications for the new grant cycle, they rightly expressed a preference for contractors who wouldn’t prohibit victims from getting the reproductive health services they need.

On the other side of the looking glass, HHS might be commended for doing the right thing. But today in the House Oversight Committee, asking those who bid on government grants to do the job they’re paid to do gets lambasted as an unconscionable abuse of power.

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