Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), various federal agencies administer grants, typically acting through an intermediary, to fund public interest organizations that treat, provide legal advocacy for, and otherwise benefit victims of human trafficking. But is someone (or everyone) manipulating the program for political gain? The Washington Post flags a story, and The National Review pounces to cry bias against the nation’s beleaguered Christians. Here, the story in brief, before an explanation of the larger context.
Truly, caring for the victims of trafficking is the Lord’s Work — and since 2006, the federal government has outsourced administration to a Catholic group (the USCCB) that, according to the ACLU, probably interpreted that mandate just a touch too literally. Taking the ACLU’s case as true, the USCCB, acting independently and based only on private moral objections and without reference to any statutory restrictions, conditioned its grants on recipients’ abstention from providing or discussing either abortion or contraception with their clients.
Keep in mind that victims of human trafficking are typically victims of sex trafficking — the forcible transportation of women for use in prostitution rings — and therefore definitionally come at greater risk of STD infection and unplanned pregnancies, both the consequence of a shadow industry that’s hardly indistinguishable from commercialized rape. It’s difficult to justify an administrator that, based on a private morality unshared by the government, lets a major symptom of trafficking go untreated. And that’s the conclusion the Obama administration came to when it let the USCCB’s contract lapse. Somehow, conservatives manage to spin this into “anti-Catholic bigotry”:
But we’re really dealing with an area of the law where victim care already takes a backseat to ideology, in open surrender to the right’s social agenda. Set aside the ACLU’s allegations that the USCCB manipulated its grants to discourage contraception in a population already at risk of disease. The TVPA itself, at the outset, forbids appropriations to an organization that in any of its constituent parts “supports” the legalization of prostitution and, in some cases, even forbids appropriations to an agency that does not explicitly adopt an anti-legalization stance. See 22 U.S.C. § 7110(g)(1)-(2).
An ideal system of victim protection and relief would ignore ideology at each step, validating women’s choices to elect an abortion, to seek contraception, and to otherwise learn about safe sex. It would also fund those programs best able to care for victims, regardless of the group’s separate and distinct political advocacy. But conservatives turned their back on an ideology-blind system of human rights work years ago, and the TVPA is hardly the only example. Consider the free clinics that can’t so much as mention the word “abortion” without losing their funding. Or the public interest lawyers who, if conservatives had their way, couldn’t sue the government, even if (and probably because) it would be in their clients’ best interest. If Catholics are to speak up for victims, and demand disinterested care administered impartially and without regard to agenda, they need to start practicing what they preach.