Religious Restrictions on Government-Funded Trafficking Victims’ Program Challenged in Federal Appeals Court

December 5, 2012

ACLU Challenged Distribution of Funds by HHS to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

BOSTON – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Massachusetts told a federal appeals court today that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must be prohibited from imposing religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services for victims of human trafficking.

In March, a federal district court ruled that a religious institution does not have the right to use federal money to impose its beliefs on others.

The ACLU challenged HHS’ distribution of program funds authorized by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). USCCB subcontracted with organizations that provide services to trafficking victims but prohibited subcontractors from using any federal funds to provide or refer for contraception, condoms and abortion care solely because of USCCB’s religious beliefs. Since many trafficking victims have been raped by traffickers and are forced into prostitution, these services are vital.

"Organizations that receive funding from the government cannot withhold critical services from victims in dire need because of their religious beliefs,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Religion should not be used as an excuse to discriminate against survivors who have endured horrific circumstances and are trying to rebuild their lives."

The Attorney General of Massachusetts and several organizations, including those that work with trafficking victims, filed briefs in support of the ACLU.

"The law requires that victims of human trafficking have access to a full range of necessary health services,” said Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Freedom of religion does not mean that federal dollars should be used to impose someone’s beliefs on others in vulnerable circumstances.”

More information on this case can be found at:
www.aclu.org/hiv-aids-religion-belief-reproductive-freedom/aclu-massachusetts-v-kathleen-sebelius-et-al

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