November 17, 2011

Regarding Michael Gerson’s Nov. 14 column, “So much for ‘good faith,’ ” about the Obama adminstration’s ending of funding for Catholic programs that aided victims of human trafficking:

Those of us in secular fields who work with such victims refer them to many vital services such as housing, counseling and medical care. Reproductive health-care services are especially important to ensure their health and to help them take back control of their lives.

However, under the Department of Health and Human Services’s contract with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, these victims were denied choices that all women should have. The conference did not directly serve trafficking victims but made sub-grants to nonprofit providers that do. It forbade the nongovernmental member organizations of the Freedom Network USA and other groups from using funds to refer survivors for contraceptives or abortion services, and the federal government allowed this denial of services to continue for years. This meant that we could not help the many survivors who pleaded with us to help them get contraceptive aid. So the American Civil Liberties Union sued HHS to ensure that trafficking survivors would have access to the full range of reproductive health-care services.

The contract at issue in the lawsuit has expired. This summer, the government asked for bids on a new contract and emphasized the health issues trafficking victims face, saying it would prefer organizations that would refer victims for the full range of reproductive services. This decision was not anti-Catholic, as Mr. Gerson implied. It was about providing trafficking victims the care they need.

Florrie Burke, New York

The writer is chair emeritus of the Freedom Network USA and serves on the steering committee of the NY Anti-Trafficking Network.