ICYMI: Abortion Issue in Catholic Bishops Sex Trafficking Victim Funding

Via the Washington Post on yesterday’s hearing, ‘“If we are going to have a litmus test that ‘Catholics need not apply’ … we need to say so, we need to codify it in the law, and we need it to withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight panel.’

ABC: Abortion Issue in Catholic Bishops Sex Trafficking Victim Funding
By Huma Khan | Dec 1, 2011 2:23pm

The Obama administration is under fire for rejecting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ request for a grant to help victims of sex trafficking, because it doesn’t provide full gynecological services such as family planning, contraception and abortion.

HHS higher-ups dismissed a recommendation from its reviewers that the USCCB be awarded the $2.5 million it requested, because the Catholic Bishops weren’t willing to provide some family planning services to trafficking victims.

“We believed it necessary that the one federally funded social service organization in charge of implementing and overseeing case management in any area is willing to provide the full scope of services that trafficking victims can learn about through the program,” George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary, said in a heated hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today.

“I believe we need to provide them [victims] a full array of services so they have a fighting chance,” Sheldon said when grilled by Republican House members of HHS’s decision, which he insisted was “within the law to respond to the needs of this population.”

The Trafficking Victim Services Grant Awards provides funding for social services for trafficking victims, such as food and shelter, not funds for abortion or family planning services.

But abortion became an issue when HHS officials added a clause this year about giving strong preference to applicants that provide victims with comprehensive case management services. That would include information on, and referrals to, “family planning services and the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.”

USCCB – which got the second highest rating from HHS’s professional staff – received the same five-year grant in 2006. But it was rejected this time around because it would not add any language that would pave the way for abortion.

“The USCCB is not going to do anything or work for anything that violates church teaching,” spokeswoman Mary Ann Walsh told ABC News.

The group accused HHS of singling it out.

“The discrimination against the USCCB couldn’t be more obvious,” Walsh said. “There’s also the concern for the real needs of victims of sex trafficking coming in second to promoting views on abortion and sterilization.”

Congressional Republicans echoed that sentiment, charging that HHS’s decision was politically and ideologically motivated.

“If we were to have a litmus test that Catholics need not apply… we need to say so and we need to quantify it in the law and stand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court,” said committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who wrote the bill that made these grants possible, blasted the Obama administration for “an unconscionable abuse of power” and “pro abortion favoritism.”

But Democrats dismissed Republicans’ comments as false and a “libel,” pointing to the millions of dollars in grants Catholic groups have received from HHS.

Since 2006, USCCB has received more than $2.5 million annually in grants from HHS. More than $650 million has gone from HHS to Catholic groups — primarily Catholic charities and USCCB — in the last three years. This is $100 million more than what went to Catholic groups in the last three years of the Bush administration.

“This is really an issue about whether victims will get the full range of services,” said Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass.

Sheldon would not say today whether the clause was added as a result of a lawsuit by the ACLU. In 2009, ACLU took the agency and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to federal court to ensure that it doesn’t grant money to organizations that “impose religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services.”

“For more than two years, the Bush administration has sanctioned the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said in a statement at the time. “It has allowed USCCB to impose its religious beliefs on trafficking victims by prohibiting sub grantees from ensuring access to services like emergency contraception, condoms, and abortion care.”

WSJ: HHS Program Draws Issa’s Ire for Excluding Catholic Group
By Louise Radnofsky

Lawmakers sparred Thursday over whether a federal program to help victims of human trafficking discriminated against a Catholic organization that was denied a grant because it doesn’t offer abortion and contraception services.

The Department of Health and Human Services rejected a funding request from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration and refugee services office in September because it didn’t provide “all of the services and referrals delineated in the program objectives,” an HHS memo released Thursday by the House Oversight Committee showed.

HHS told applicants it would give preference to groups that offered “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care” for victims.

The oversight committee found that the Catholic organization was passed over while grants were awarded to groups with lower scores.

Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) said he was concerned that the “actions appear to constitute an abuse of discretion and undermine the integrity of the process, while potentially violating the spirit, if not the letter, of federal laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination based on religious beliefs.”

Committee Democrats, including Catholic Reps. Gerry Connolly of Virginia and John Tierney of Massachusetts, said abortion and contraception were key services for female victims of trafficking.

Mr. Tierney said that faith organizations could provide whatever services they liked, but if they were contracting with the government, they “must do it on government terms.” He also noted that the Catholic group has received several other grants from HHS.

The anti-trafficking program distributed around $57 million over the past decade, HHS officials testified.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops, said after the hearing that she believed that the federal agency was “not really looking at the real needs of victims.”

House Republicans criticize White House for denying grant to Catholic group

By Felicia Sonmez, Published: December 1

House Republicans on Thursday sharply criticized a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services in September to deny a federal grant to a Catholic group that refuses to refer victims of human trafficking for abortion and contraceptive services, with some lawmakers saying that reflected an anti-Catholic bias in the Obama administration.

Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform countered that the Republicans were trying to “smear” the White House.

HHS officials testified that they acted appropriately in awarding the $4.5 million in funding to three other nonprofit groups even though reviewers had scored those applications below that of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The officials disputed the accusation of anti-Catholic bias, noting that in the days after denying the contract, the agency awarded the organization a separate $19 million grant. And they said the agency had provided more grant money to Catholic organizations during the Obama administration than in the final three years of the George W. Bush administration.

More than 30 Republican lawmakers have sent letters to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius arguing that the decision to deny the grant was politically motivated and may have violated federal antidiscrimination laws. The group had been receiving the funding since 2006.

“If we are going to have a litmus test that ‘Catholics need not apply’ … we need to say so, we need to codify it in the law, and we need it to withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight panel.

According to officials and documents, political appointees became involved  in awarding the grant despite the recommendation from some career officials that the Catholic organization be funded. Issa argued Thursday that the potential for politics to determine who gets federal grants is the “more complicated issue.”

“We must ensure that the grant process can never be called an earmark process based on ideology or political appointees’ whims,” he said.

George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for the department’s Administration for Children and Families, said the three groups that were awarded the grant money were “well regarded” and that officials made their decision based on the answer to this question: “Which organizations were best able to serve all the needs of the victims?”

“The unwillingness of the bishops to agree to provide the full array of services raised questions as to whether they could meet the full objectives,” he said.

Lawmakers grew heated as they argued over the Obama administration’s relationship with Catholics  and with religious groups more broadly.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), a vocal opponent of abortion rights and author of the act that provided for the HHS grants, called the agency’s decision “an unconscionable abuse of power” and said there is now “clear proof” that the Obama administration will not consider the grant applications of Catholic groups through a fair and transparent process.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) argued that the “hyperbolic rhetoric” from some Republicans on the panel “would suggest that the purpose of the hearing is to try to smear the Obama administration.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued HHS over its previous awarding of the anti-trafficking grant to the bishops group, said in a statement Thursday that the hearing “was a political show-trial bought and paid for by the powerful lobbyists at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops exerting their influence over certain members of Congress.”

Issa, House GOPers say HHS discriminated against Catholic Church

12:10 AM 12/02/2011 By Caroline May

At a Thursday House oversight committee hearing on the administration’s decision not to renew funding to United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to help victims of human sex trafficking, the committee’s Republicans clashed with Health and Human Services official George Sheldon.

The hearing, “HHS and the Catholic Church: Examining the Politicization of Grants,” dealt with the Department of Health and Human Services’ denial of a new grant to USCCB — which had been receiving funding to combat trafficking since 2006 under a five year contract.

Despite protest from career HHS officials, as the Washington Post reported, three other groups received the grant, including two that received “significantly” lower scores from an independent review board.

“The most experienced and top rated national applicant was not selected for this award. Other organizations including ones that submitted much lower rated proposals were somehow funded,” committee Chairman Darrell Issa said, alleging that members of the administration changed the criteria for approval because of a bias against the Catholic Church.

Sheldon explained that in its determination HHS granted a preference to those groups “that would provide the full array of services.”

“Our experience in operating this program for ten years drove home to us the particular health risked posed by victims of human trafficking. As a result we specified in the funding announcement that we would give a strong preference to applicants that are willing to offer all the services in referrals delineated in the program objectives — including offering victims referral to medical providers that can provide or refer to a full range of services they need,” Sheldon said, noting that if the applicant is unable to perform some of the tasks — such as abortion — they can contract with sub-grantees to provide those
services.

“We selected grantees that are able to provide a full set of health-related referrals,” he added.

Issa pressed Sheldon on the independent scores of the groups that received grant money, asking why USCCR was denied the grant when it had a substantially higher score (89) than two of the three grantees.

“74 to 89 is a chasm. If you can’t explain the chasm then what I see here is they were dead on arrival, period,” he said. “The bottom line is everybody who applied got it except the incumbent and they were at the top of the rating and dramatically higher than two much less qualified. … You did not tell them that they could be just a shit-pot better and still not get the award. That has a chilling effect,” Issa said, going on to apologize for the language.

Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz yielded his time to New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith who lampooned the administration for their “bias.”

“The Obama administration’s bias against Catholics is an affront to religious freedom and a threat to all people,” Smith charged.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy hammered Sheldon on the score disparity, asking the HHS official what score would have been high enough to receive a grant.

“Assume this fact then: If they scored a 95, would that have been high enough?” Gowdy asked, to which Sheldon responded he could not speculate.

The Democrats on the committee focused on the administration’s granting of millions of dollars to Catholic charities and urged the committee to remember the plight of the victims.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. John Tierney took issue with the characterization that HHS has an anti-Catholic bias.

“Some characterizations made, that the decision not to award the Catholic Bishops this particular grant, is somehow discriminating against the entire Catholic Church. In fact the title of today’s hearing frames Heath and Human Services as being in conflict with the Catholic Church,” Tierney said.

Tierney noted that Catholic entities have received millions from the administration.

“Earlier this year press accounts reported that Heath and Human Services awarded the bishops a $19 million grant to help foreign refugees in America. Now I think roughly that would be 7 times the amount that they requested in the grant we are talking about today… And in Fiscal Year 2011 the bishops received a total of $32 million in grants from Health and Human Services alone,” he added noting that in the last three years the administration has awarded over $650 million to Catholic organizations.

Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly also took offense at the idea with Republicans’ charge that HHS discriminated against the Catholic Church.

“I am alarmed when people use hyperbole rhetoric which might suggest to some — certainly not to me– that actually the purpose of the hearing, as Mr. Tierney suggested, is to try to smear the Obama administration with a label, that if true, would be very disturbing,” he said.

Following the debate, hearing participant New York Republican Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle told The Daily Caller that legislation addressing the criteria for awarding grants will likely be a result of the committee’s work. Buerkle — who pointed out during the hearing that abortion could be an added trauma for victims of human trafficking — said that the politicization of the process will cause more harm than good.

“This should be a concern to anyone who doesn’t agree with the views of this administration,” she said, adding that the decision was “very political.”

Huffington Post: GOP Defends Bishops Over Grant For Sex Trafficking Victims

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

First Posted: 12/ 1/11 05:34 PM ET Updated: 12/ 1/11 06:35 PM ET

House lawmakers sparred bitterly on Thursday over the Obama administration’s decision to deny a group of Catholic bishops a lucrative grant because they refused to refer sex trafficking victims to a full range of reproductive services. Republicans accused the administration of being overtly anti-Catholic and promoting abortion, while Democrats said the GOP had scheduled the hearing with the sole purpose of “smearing”
President Obama.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently decided not to renew a $19 million, five-year contract with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to help sex trafficking victims because the group does not refer survivors to abortion or contraception services. The three groups who received the grant instead of the bishops — Tapestri of Atlanta, Heartland Human Care Services of Chicago and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants of Washington — all agreed to provide victims “the full range of reproductive services” recommended by the health department.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Thursday to interrogate the health department over its decision on this one grant. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said the fact that the bishops were qualified in every other way to help sex trafficking victims proved that the administration was basing its decision entirely on a pro-abortion, anti-Catholic bias.

“The Obama administration’s bias against Catholics is an affront to religious freedom and a threat to all people,” he said at the hearing. “The Catholic organization was discriminated against solely because it fundamentally respects the innate value and dignity of an unborn child and refuses to be complicit in his or her violent death.”

George Sheldon, Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families under HHS, told the committee that many sex trafficking victims who become pregnant following multiple traumatic rapes deserve to be at least offered the option of ending that pregnancy and procuring contraception for the future. He said that HHS clearly told all groups competing for the grant that “strong preference” would be given to those organizations that would refer victims to doctors who can provide STI treatment, family planning services and “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.”

According to HHS, a team of reviewers looked at all the applications and determined the strengths and weaknesses of each. The USCCB initially received a higher score than the others because it had carried out its previous contract successfully and had significant experience helping sex trafficking victims. Yet it lost the contract because it failed to provide details in its application as to what reproductive health alternatives it would provide for pregnant sex trafficking victims.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, asked Sheldon how the bishops could receive a higher rating than other groups and still be denied the contract. Sheldon tried to answer the question, but Issa interrupted him angrily.

“You did not tell them that they could be just a shitpot better and still not get the award,” he shouted. “That has a chilling effect.”

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) pointed out that the Obama administration had awarded Catholic groups a number of other lucrative federal contracts this year and had granted them more money over the past three years than the Bush Administration did in the three previous years. He said that this should be proof enough that Obama is not biased against Catholics, and that Republicans were only making a big deal out of this particular grant to make the president look bad.

“The title of today’s hearing frames Health and Human Services as being in conflict with the Catholic church,” he said. “The underlying argument is whether a victim is going to have their health care services limited or not.”

“I hope the gentleman did not mean to say that the Chair is being disingenuous or outright lying about the purpose of this meeting,” Issa snapped back.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who is Catholic, tried to lay the issue of Obama’s alleged religious discrimination to rest, but slipped in a dig to Issa in the process.

“I am alarmed when people use hyperbolic rhetoric, which might suggest to some, certainly not me, that actually the purpose of the hearing … is to try to smear the Obama administration with a label that, if true, would be very disturbing,” he said. “As a Catholic, I would like to believe that it’s not true. In fact, there’s plenty of common-faith evidence that it’s not.”

Hearing: Obama Admin Discriminated Against Catholics on Abortion

by Steven Ertelt | LifeNews.com | 12/1/11 12:14 PM

A House committee held a hearing today on the decision by the Obama administration to deny to the nation’s Catholic bishops a grant for a program helping sex trafficking victims because it would not refer for abortions.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held the hearing on the administration’s decision not to renew funding for United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) program to assist human trafficking victims.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had previously received a five-year $19 million grant to help victims of sex trafficking during the administration of pro-life President George W. Bush. Sensitive to how women are exploited in the sex industry, the Catholic bishops prohibit any subcontractors from using the funds to pay for or promote abortions. Instead, the Catholic bishops provide comprehensive case management services to survivors including medical and mental health services.

While the Obama administration extended the contract briefly in March, the bishops were recently notified that it would not be renewed. Instead, Obama officials awarded the grant to three other groups (Tapestri of Atlanta, Heartland Human Care Services of Chicago and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants of Washington) — even though the bishops have helped more than 2,700 victims with the funding.

During the hearing, committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said the decision violated the Obama administration’s “pledge to be the most transparent in history.”

“Unfortunately, today, we are presented with an example of how that goal is not being met and an opportunity to understand how the federal grant-making process has been politicized,” he said.

“The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has begun an investigation into the process used by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement to award grants that fund many types of care and services,” he told the hearing. “That investigation has uncovered many disturbing facts about the grant awards process, including: the most experienced and top rated national applicant was not selected, and lower-ranked organizations were somehow funded. The process was delayed for months while the agency struggled to find ways to inject new criteria into the process, and—of great concern—the judgment of experienced, career-level professionals was discarded when political appointees chose to overrule transparent decision-making.”

“These actions appear to constitute an abuse of discretion and undermine the integrity of the process, while potentially violating the spirit, if not the letter, of federal laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination based on religious beliefs,” Issa said.

At several points during the hearing, members discussed the fact that the Obama administration scored one of the applicants that received a grant ahead of the Catholic bishops more than 20 point slower on the scale of reviewing the grant than the high score the Catholic bishops received.

George Sheldon, the Acting Assistant Secretary at the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services testified for the Obama administration.

Sheldon was repeatedly asked by multiple members about how HHS could have denied the grant to the bishops even though their program to help sex trafficking victims scored the second highest when ranked against the other programs competing for grants. Sheldon was unable to give reasons why the Catholic program was not given the grant but protested that it did not have anything to do with abortion.

When asked by Issa what the bishops could have done to receive a grant, he called the question a “hypothetical” and said he could not get into a debate over hypotheticals.

Sheldon also admitted that the previous grant, issued under the Bush administration, did not contain a litmus test on abortion and he admitted that none of the victims the Catholic program helped said they received poor care.

Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle also commented during the hearing about the apparent discrimination.

“Since 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has received Health and Human Services (HHS) grants for the case management of victims of human trafficking,” she said. “Through 2011, the USCCB received exemplary marks during evaluation of its services provided to these victims.”

“It is of great concern to me to see that this organization was not awarded an HHS grant this year, despite its proven record of responsible stewardship and success,” Buerkle said. “It appears that under this administration it is no longer business as usual.  The politicization of the grant process puts the integrity of U.S. outreach efforts into question and has instead elevated the priority of partisanship over the needs of those victims of human trafficking and purposefully at the expense of an organization capable of meeting those needs.”

As LifeNews reported, the nation’s Catholic bishops are considering a lawsuit against the
Obama administration for denying a grant previously granted for a program helping victims of sex trafficking because the bishops would not refer the women for abortions.

More recently, 27 senators led by Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Marco Rubio of Florida, have written to pro-abortion HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting information on how the Department of Health and Human Services graded applicants for the grants and for information on why the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services was denied a renewal of its grant. The letter, dated November 9, gave Sebelius until November 18 to respond and to ensure that the Obama administration did not violate federal law when issuing the grants. They are seeking “a full explanation of your department’s decision” and an explanation for whether the bishops’ pro-life “position regarding abortion referrals was a factor in your department’s decision making.”

The letter seeks a list of grant applicants, copies of the applications, scores and comments from an independent review and documents related to communications concerning the decision to ensure no bias took
place.

HHS officials say they made a policy decision and not one based on religion, but the decision to not renew the grant came after the pro-abortion ACLU filed suit against the Obama administration for renewing it.

The Washington Post previously reported that the decision by top Obama administration officials to deny the grant was so contentious, some HHS staffers opposed it.

“In the case of the trafficking contract, senior political appointees at HHS stepped in to award the new grants to the bishops’ competitors, overriding an independent review board and career staffers who had recommended that the bishops be funded again, according to federal officials and internal HHS documents. That happened as the ACLU suit is preceding before a federal judge in Boston,” the Post reported. “The decision not to fund the bishops this time has caused controversy inside HHS. A number of career officials refused to sign documents connected to the grant, feeling that the process was unfair and politicized, individuals familiar with the matter said. Their concerns have been reported to the HHS inspector general’s office.”

“HHS policies spell out that career officials usually oversee grant competitions and select the winners, giving priority consideration to the review board’s judgment. The policies do not prohibit political appointees from getting involved, though current and former employees said it is unusual, especially for high-level officials,” the newspaper says.

The Post also indicates Sharon Parrott, a top aide to pro-abortion HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, was closely involved in the process and the newspaper added, “some HHS staffers objected to the involvement of the secretary’s office, saying the goal was to exclude the Catholic bishops, individuals familiar with the matter said.”

“It was so clearly and blatantly trying to come up with a certain outcome,” one HHS official said. “That’s very distasteful to people.’’

Sister Mary Ann Walsh wrote in a blog post at the USCCB web site, that HHS operates on an “Anybody But Catholics” basis.

“There seems to be a new unwritten reg at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It’s the ABC Rule, Anybody But Catholics,” she writes. “The program worked well on the ground. but not so well for distant administrators promoting the abortion and contraceptive agenda, who bristle at the fact that in accord with church teaching, USCCB won’t facilitate taking innocent life, sterilization and artificial
contraception.”

Talk Radio News Service: HHS Rejects Claims That They Denied Grant Funding  Because Of Religion

Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 1:50PM | Scarlette Whyte

Health and Human Services found themselves in the hot seat with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. HHS Secretary for the Administration for Children, George Sheldon, testified about HHS’ decision to deny funding for United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) program to assist human trafficking victims.

The program’s goal is to give funding to organizations who can provide an array of 200 services to victims of human trafficking. The USCCB did not want to refer victims to doctors for abortions and sterilization as it conflicted with their Catholic beliefs.

Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said the USCCB was denied funds purely because of their Catholic faith. “That investigation has uncovered many disturbing facts about the grant awards process, including: the most experienced and top rated national applicant was not selected, and lower-ranked organizations were somehow funded,” Issa said.

Sheldon said the goal is to provide full gynecological services to the victims that include contraception and family planning services. He reiterated that USCCB did not give any alternative to working around the issue of abortion and sterilization.

Sheldon went on to say that the grants went to organizations who could provide all the services and USCCB did not fit the criteria.  “Strong preference to applicants who are willing to offer all of the services and referrals,” Sheldon testified.

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