For Sex Slaves, Catholic Bishops' ‘Help’ is No Help at All

In the United States, every year an estimated 50,000-75,000 women and children are trafficked into the country and forced into sexual servitude. As startling as that number is, it doesn’t even include the hundreds of thousands already residing within our borders forced into the commercial sex industry.

Sometimes it’s a pimp that forces a runaway into prostitution. Other times, women and children are kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by abductors. Often women are lured abroad with promises of good jobs and better lives, only to find themselves held against their will as prostitutes with no means of escape.

If a victim is lucky enough to get to help -- which 14,000 victims are each year-- they should be given every bit of care they need. For women who have been forced into sexual slavery, part of that critical care includes contraceptives, preventative care and even abortions.

But for years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), while annually dispersing $2.5 million -$3.5 million dollars of federal money intended to help these victims, has prohibited subcontractors from providing – and even referring women for – contraception, condoms and abortion care solely because of USCCB’s religious beliefs. Because so many of these victims have been raped, forced into prostitution and sexually assaulted, these services are vital.

Although the government chose this year not renew its contract with the USCCB, the ACLU has appropriately filed suit to ensure it is never an issue again. For that, I applaud them.

It is another case of denying the most vulnerable women the care they need because of religious belief and dogmatic “morality.” The USCCB cites this morality as the reason they refuse to offer these services to women. But how moral is it to take away the choice of a young girl or a woman forced into prostitution— making her carry the child of her rapist? How moral is it to impose personal religious beliefs on a victim by offering only certain parts of critical care?

It is so often women who suffer when religion and government are comingled. This case is just one in a long line that represent the real impact on victims when the separation of church and state is blurred. In many states, it has become commonplace for rape victims to be denied emergency contraception if doing so violates the pharmacists’ religious beliefs.

And the problem is not confined to the borders of the U.S. In places like rural Ethiopia, non-government organizations (NGOs) often provide the only option for women and girls who need abortions. But U.S. policy has restricted NGOs from using even their own non-U.S. funds to provide legal abortion services, providing accurate medical counseling and even advocating for abortion reform in their own countries.

Women have the right to determine their own morality and to make the decisions that affect their lives. They have the right to determine which services they want and need — that’s especially true for women who have for too long had their choices taken away from them, while enduring the types of atrocities that these women have.

Ironically, many who advocate that public funding should not be used to offer these services because they offend their religious beliefs have no problem imposing their beliefs on others by limiting education and removing options. 

It is impossible for the government to respect every religion equally, which is why the framers of the Constitution stated explicitly that it would make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Yet time after time, the secular government offers money to religious groups that use it to further their religious agenda. It’s time for the public funding of religious institutions to end.

The bottom line is that the church cannot be blamed for carrying out their message—that’s who they are and what they do. And it is their right to believe what they want and act accordingly.

It is up to the government not to give money to organizations that impose their religious dogma on the society at large. The separation of church and state exists for a reason— and that reason is so that Americans are not forced to finance and promote the religious views of one organization over another, or over non-religion.

In order to comply with our Constitution the government must be more discerning in whom it gives money to.

I applaud the government for not renewing its contract with the USCCB and the ACLU for fighting to ensure this never happens again. 



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