Can Anyone But Catholics Apply?

By Dave Andrusko

Pro-abortion President Barack Obama

We know (no secret here) that the Obama administration marches to the beat of a pro-abortion drum. That truism notwithstanding, we know that President Obama is bound and determined to portray himself as a centrist, seeking after “common ground.”

That’s why an article in this morning’s Washington Post is so important. It is not often that anyone in that administration will concede what amounts to an anti-Catholic bias (even though they adamantly deny it).

Put another way, it is one thing for Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to write on the USCCB blog, “There seems to be a new unwritten reg[ulation] at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It’s the ABC Rule, Anybody But Catholics.” But it’s quite another for the Post to run a story today filled with examples of what Sr. Walsh characterizes as “a sad ma­nipu­la­tion of a process to promote a pro-abortion agenda.”

The immediate flashpoint, according to the story by the Post’s Jerry Markon, is the September decision by HHS “to end funding to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help victims of human trafficking, or modern-day slavery.” (The USCCB has overseen nationwide services to victims since 2006.)

What has that to do with freedom of conscience and abortion which the Catholic Church and the Obama administration have been fighting over in one forum after another after another? Read on.

You have to first understand that merit did not figure into awarding the new grants. Markon writes

“On the trafficking contract, senior political appointees at HHS awarded the new grants to the bishops’ competitors despite a recommendation from career staffers that the bishops be funded based on scores by an independent review board, according to federal officials and internal HHS documents.

“That prompted a protest from some HHS staffers, who said the process was unfair and politicized, individuals familiar with the matter said. Their concerns have been reported to the HHS inspector general’s office.”

But what was it about the USCCB’s application that political types at HHS found so objectionable?

“The bishops organization, in line with the church’s teachings, had refused to refer trafficking victims for contraceptives or abortion. The American Civil Liberties Union sued, and HHS officials said they made a policy decision to award the grants to agencies that would refer women for those services.”

According to Markon, usually at HHS career officials oversee the competition for grants and priority consideration is given to the judgment of the review board. But “The policies do not prohibit political appointees from getting involved.”

That is important because later in the story we read that two of the three organizations which did get the grants “were scored significantly below the Catholic bishops’ application by the review panel, the individuals familiar with the matter said.”

Nonetheless, George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, told Markon that his agency “followed standard procedure.” He also said “There wasn’t an intention to go out and target anybody,’’ adding snidely, “Nobody has ownership of a contract.”

You would expect, as the Markon story explains, that in its lawsuit begun in 2009 the ACLU would argue that the Catholic Church was “imposing its beliefs.” But “in defending the contract on behalf of HHS, Justice Department lawyers argued that the contract was constitutional and that the bishops had been ‘resoundingly successful in increasing assistance to victims of human trafficking,”’ Markon reports.

Such was the situation when the contract approached expiration this spring. “HHS political appointees became involved in reshaping the request for proposals, adding a ‘strong preference’ for applicants offering referrals for family planning and the “full range” of “gynecological and obstetric care,” Markon writes. ’’That would include abortions and birth control; federal funds cannot be used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.”

The USCCB “says the language essentially stacked the deck against the group and violated federal laws barring discrimination based on religion,” Markon writes. Sr. Walsh said, “This was a political decision.”

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