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Government Should Focus on HIV Prevention, Not Promoting One Set of Religious Beliefs

Rose Saxe,
Deputy Director, LGBT & HIV Project,
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January 16, 2009

It’s admirable that the federal government provides money to help victims of human trafficking in the United States get their lives back through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Unfortunately, many trafficking victims have been raped, or forced into prostitution, and are at increased risk of HIV disease as a result.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in August 2007 expressly linked trafficking and HIV.

So why does the federal government allow the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to deny reimbursement with our tax dollars when victims’ groups try to provide contraception, including condoms? Because the Conference, which was awarded a multi-million dollar contract to distribute government funds to organizations that are helping trafficking victims, asked the government to allow it to impose its religious criteria in deciding what services are eligible for reimbursement. And the government said yes.

We at the ACLU AIDS Project are a part of this lawsuit because of the devastating health impact of denying access to condoms for victims of trafficking. This isn’t a case about whether or not the Catholic Church itself should provide condoms to people at increased risk of HIV disease. It’s about whether our government is allowed to impose one set of religious beliefs on the organizations that are working to help victims of human trafficking, including limiting access to vital HIV prevention methods, like condoms. We think the answer is clearly no.

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