December 1, 2011; Source: Washington Post | There are lots of upset people on both sides of this issue: The Department of Health and Human Services has denied a grant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help victims of human trafficking. The reason appears to be the unwillingness of the Catholic bishops to refer victims for abortion and contraceptive services.

According to Republican critics of HHS, the decision reflects the Obama Administration’s purported bias against Catholics, citing the fact that proposal reviewers ranked the Catholic bishops application above three other groups that received funding. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) hinted that the Obama Administration’s agenda was “Catholics need not apply.”

HHS officials defended themselves against the charge of anti-Catholic bias by pointing out that Catholic organizations have received more money from the Obama Administration than they received during the final three years of the Bush Administration. According to George Sheldon, the acting assistant secretary for the HHS Administration for Children and Families, the decision was based on “which organizations were best able to serve all the needs of victims.” It is also true that the American Civil Liberties Union sued HHS over its previous anti-trafficking grant to the Bishops Conference.

Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) said this was proof that the Obama Administration won’t fund grant applications of Catholic groups “through a fair and transparent process.” Congressman Gerald Connolly (D-VA) declared that the charges were “hyperbolic rhetoric” meant to “smear the Obama administration.”

According to an HHS memorandum, the Catholic Bishops proposal was ranked second, behind an application from the Heartland Alliance and ahead of applications from Tapestri and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, but that was without consideration of “strong preference” for organizations that would offer all of the services quested in the program, including family planning services and “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.” According to the memorandum, the HHS “anticipate[s] that the USCCB may file a lawsuit . . . when it receives notification that it has not received funding.”

Emotions are high over this HHS decision. It raises a two-part question for NPQ Newswire readers: (1) Do you think that the Obama Administration is exercising a bias against Catholic service providers, or are the critics exaggerating? (2) Do you think that the HHS requirement of organizations aiding victims of human trafficking to deliver all possible services—including contraceptive and abortion services—is legitimate?—Rick Cohen