Religious and other pro-life charity organizations that aid sex trafficking victims will longer be awarded federal grants if they are unable to offer abortion counseling services due to religious convictions come this fall after the Obama administration passed a new Department of Health and Human Services grant requirement last month.
According to the Washington Examiner, a change to HHS guidelines passed in June explains that the department is now disqualifying aid organizations that do not offer "the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care," which also includes abortion counseling and referrals.
The report adds that groups that refuse to offer abortion counseling services to trafficking victims have the option to ensure that abortion counseling is provided through a third-party in order to remain eligible for the grant funding.
Pro-life opponents of the new guidelines say this is just another instance in which the Obama administration is trying to force abortion at the cost of women in dire need of assistance.
"The Obama administration is staunchly pushing its radical pro-abortion agenda at the expense of women who have been traumatized by sex trafficking," Arina Grossu, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, told The Christian Post in a statement. "Forcing charities to promote abortion or lose funding ultimately hurts the women served by these charities. Abortion is not healthcare. By prioritizing abortion above real healthcare, the Administration is endangering both the well-being of women and religious liberty."
The money provided to these charities comes from the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement and cannot be used to discriminate against pro-life and religious groups, according to the Weldon Amendment.
Under the amendment, federal agencies and state and local governments that receive federal funds are not allowed to discriminate "on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions."
Jeanne Mancini, president of the pro-life advocacy group March for Life, told CP in an interview that in her mind, this new human trafficking directive is against the law.
"The law that I am aware of is the Hyde-Weldon Amendment that is included in the HHS labor appropriations bill every year," Mancini explained. "That prohibits discrimination against pro-life health groups from getting funding so that these non-profits and these religious groups that would be applying for this kind of funding would have the capacity for health services. So to me, it seems like it is against the law."
Mancini said the federal grant goes a long way in helping organizations provide these victims with legal services, health services, vocational training and places to stay.
"These are hugely important grants," she said.
Mancini added that she believes that this is the administration's way of saying that Christian charities and pro-lifers "need not apply" for the funding.
"Essentially, they have created a barrier for groups that are pro-life to receive funding to provide services for trafficking victims," Mancini said. "I think Christian groups that are pro-life need not apply and I think that is the message that they are trying to send here."
"I would liken it to the HHS abortion-inducing mandate and how they have the accommodation," Mancini continued. "They need to come up with a plan for another group to be able to provide counseling and services for abortion."
Up until 2011, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops Migration and Refugee Services was a primary recipient of the sex trafficking relief grants. However, the organization lost its contract after HHS reshaped its request for proposals to give "strong preference" to applicants that make available "family planning services and the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care."
"Despite the fact that the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops received the most technically high score in the grant review by an independent review board, they were not awarded the grant," Mancini explained. "So absolutely what is happening here is they are putting a block. They have changed the language in this funding announcement instead of saying that they were giving preference, they are saying that this is a criteria and you won't be eligible to apply. It's a disqualifier if you don't provide this whole range of legally available services."
The Examiner reports that the policy change will likely not effect on the grant's three current awardees — the Georgia-based Tapestri, Heartland Human Care Services and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.