GOP accuses HHS of discrimination over reproductive rights

Republicans on a government watchdog panel ripped into the Obama administration Thursday after it rejected a $2.5 million anti-human-trafficking grant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Two applicants ranked much lower received grants instead, and Republicans accused the Department of Health and Human Services of politicizing the process and discriminating against the conference — which has received HHS grants before — because it refused to refer victims to abortion and other reproductive health services.

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Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who authored the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act under which the grants were made, accused the administration of an unconscionable abuse of power.

The Obama administrations discriminatory practice of funding [non-governmental organizations] that provide or refer for abortions even when they fail to win a competitive process is not only unjust, unethical and in violation of conscience laws, but it severely undermines public — and congressional — confidence and support for what is an otherwise laudable program, Smith said during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which invited him to speak.

Democrats argued that the Catholic conferences application simply fell short. They requested their own hearing to hear from anti-human-trafficking organizations about victims needs.

If our goal is to analyze these grants in a responsible manner, committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said, we cannot ignore the voices of these human-trafficking victims, many of whom are very young women who have been exploited and raped by their persecutors.

George Sheldon, acting assistant HHS secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, testified that HHS made clear during the grant application process that it would give a strong preference to applicants who are willing to offer all of the services and referrals delineated in the program objectives. He said the last round of grants did not include the family-planning requirement.

Our decisions in this grant award were made based on our determination of which organizations could best meet the needs of human-trafficking victims, Sheldon testified.