Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ACLU Suit Can Move Forward

Late last month, a federal district court in Massachusetts ruled that the ACLU's suit against the Department of Health and Human Services can proceed. In 2009, the ACLU sued HHS on behalf of the taxpayers of Massachusetts because HHS' funding of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to provide aftercare services to victims and survivors of trafficking imposes restrictions on the services provided to victims and survivors due to religious beliefs.

The USCCB has been one of the main providers of services for trafficking victims and survivors, including case management, shelter, counseling, job training, advocacy, and other needed services. However, the USCCB does not provide birth control, will not fund abortions, and restricts reproductive health options. The ACLU has taken issue with these restrictions, arguing that they "impose religious doctrine on victims of human trafficking."

Judge Richard Stearns ruled on March 22nd that the ACLU's suit can go forward. Initially, the USCCB had argued that the ACLU could not bring the suit forward on behalf of taxpayers, but instead that only a trafficking victim or survivor could bring the suit. The ACLU argues that "It is unlikely a trafficking victim or a cash-strapped nonprofit organization that provides services to trafficking victims would come forward to sue the federal government, and it has been well established for the last 40 years that taxpayers can challenge government-funded religion." While their point is well taken, it is important to also be cautious about speaking on behalf of or for marginalized people or victims of violence. Such acts can be oppressive and re-victimizing, while perpetuating the silencing of these populations.

The case is far from over. The USCCB has also argued that freedom of religion allows them to determine the programs and services that they provide and support, and that were the ACLU's suit was to triumph, it would be in violation of freedom of religion.

Amanda Kloer points out that regardless of the outcome, victims are likely to suffer in this case: "It will involve organizations which serve trafficking victims spending lots of time and money on legal fees which could be spent on people. If USCCB is told they must provide reproductive health care, then trafficking survivors will lose a competent, experienced service provider and have their recovery process disrupted as they're shuffled around. If USCCB can carry on, then women in need of health care might not get it, resulting in more trauma in their lives. If I'm a woman trying to rebuild my life after trafficking, no version of the future is looking bright and rosy."

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:00 PM

    Is the ACLU going to take care of the sex trade victims???? Perhaps through this case the ACLU will get a much needed glimps of the horrific crimes done to the victims of the sex traffic trade and redirect their skill to the business men and slave traders that perpetuate this modern day slavery. For Petes sake there are so few organizations that help trafficked victims and now they have to spend money to defend themeselves? If you told a saved victim that you will love and care for them, keep them safe but not provide birth control, not fund an abortion, and restrict reproductive health options they would jump into your arms. I know first hand. The ACLU does a lot of great things. They were a huge force that helped stop slavery here in the US. They have lost the plot on this one.