Helping Trafficking Victims Isn’t Biased

Earlier this week, Michael Gerson, an op-ed writer for The Washington Post, penned a particularly troubling piece, accusing the Obama administration—and the ACLU—of anti-Catholic bias, because “the conscience protections of Catholics are under assault.”

The “conscience protections” he mentions are really a license for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, powerful lobbyists whose political agenda differs from lay Catholics sitting in the pews, who contracted with the government to provide services to victims of trafficking, to refuse to provide access to one set of critical services—the full range of reproductive health care, which includes contraception and abortion.

As Florrie Burke, a woman who provided services to trafficking victims under the bishops’ contract, explained in a great response to Gerson’s op-ed, survivors often pleaded with her to help them get contraceptive aid. This is because trafficking victims are often raped and assaulted, and many have contracted STIs or may have experienced unintended pregnancies. Yet, Florrie was prohibited under the contract from helping these women gain access to condoms or birth control.

Although the case has not yet been resolved, the government’s contract with the bishops expired (it was not “abruptly ended” as Gerson claimed). The government put out an announcement for an entirely new contract. And in recognizing their particular health needs, the announcement explained the importance for trafficking victims to have access to the full range of reproductive health care services and provided a preference in bidding to organizations that provide access to all of these services. Several organizations applied for funding, and the bishops were not chosen.

So, is prioritizing the needs of those who’ve experienced modern-day slavery really “anti-Catholic”? Burke doesn’t think so. And neither do we.

Reprinted with permission from the ACLU Blog of Rights

Illustration by Jared Rodriguez/Truthout under Creative Commons 2.0


  1. It seems more like Catholic organizations have a bias against women’s health. I don’t think Catholic Health organizations were meeting the needs of the human trafficing victims at all if they were not offering reproductive health services to woman who may have been through sexual assaults. And offering a service that the individual woman can decline isn’t really restricting that person’s rights.

    • I don’t agree with keeping a trafficked person ignorant of their options. However, saying an organization that doesn’t provide abortion information is “not helping the victims at all” is an ignorant reduction of the reality of what a trafficked person needs.

  2. I understand the tone of this piece completely, but as someone who works in Anti-Trafficking there’s more that has to be considered.

    I am a proponent of offering comprehensive reproductive options, but some of the new organizations the government chose to fund in place of the USCCB *don’t know anything about trafficking!* I mean that quite literally. I spoke to a rep from one of the Midwestern organizations taking over and she admitted that their organization had no trafficking division and that she herself didn’t know even the federal definition of trafficking! The government chose organizations with a good history of working with the underprivileged and assumed that they would, in time, fit the bill. Bringing on a completely green service provider is ludicrous.

    The way this situation was handled is heartbreaking and I can only hope that the new organizations will hire consultants and get themselves trained in trafficking restoration in one hulluva hurry.

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