Bishops May Sue Obama Admin for Denying Grant Over Abortion

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 1, 2011   |   1:15PM   |   Washington, DC

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.

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.

As LifeNews reported, 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.

Now, the Washington Post indicates the bishops are considering a lawsuit saying the Obama administration is engaging in religious bias in awarding the federal contract.

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 Post also reports 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.’’

George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, denied the bias and told the Post: “There wasn’t an intention to go out and target anybody. Nobody has ownership of a contract.”

But Sister Mary Ann Walsh writes 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.”