(CNSNews.com) – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit on Apr. 6 against the federal government to obtain “documents related to how groups that are awarded government funding contracts are restricting refugee and undocumented immigrant teenagers' access to reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion.”
The lawsuit is seeking the release of documents from the Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families about contracts awarded to religious groups that are helping unaccompanied minors, many of whom have crossed into the United States from Mexico.
Brigitte Amiri, an ACLU senior staff attorney, said that religious organizations, particularly the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), are taking millions of dollars in federal funding and refusing “to provide teens with critical reproductive health care — such as emergency contraception and abortion — as required by U.S. law.”
“Recently, the federal government released proposed regulations requiring federal contractors who care for unaccompanied minors to provide access to contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion if a teen has been raped,” said the ACLU, referencing a recent interim rule published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
“In response, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of the groups that received a government-funded contract to provide care to these teens, said any requirement that they provide information about contraception or abortion, even a referral or the arrangement for such services, would violate their religious freedom,” the ACLU said, citing the USCCB’s Feb. 20 letter of reply to ORR’s interim rule.
The Dec. 24, 2014 interim rule, which will go into effect this June, requires federally funded organizations caring for illegal alien minors to provide “unimpeded access to emergency medical treatment,” including “emergency contraception,” and abortion.
The ACLU argues that, “religious freedom does not include the right to take a government contract that requires providing access to health care, and then refuse to provide a teen who has been raped the health care she needs.”
However the USCCB and other religious organizations have invoked the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which bars the federal government from denying government grants and contracts on the basis of a group’s free exercise of religion.
“There is little question that a government requirement to provide or refer for items or procedures to which an organization has a religious and moral objection would impose a ‘substantial burden’ on its exercise of religion,” the USCCB wrote.
“Abortion takes an innocent human life and wounds another life. It is the antithesis of healthcare. This lawsuit will not expand access to humane care, but rather will peddle death and harm to an already vulnerable population — young undocumented immigrants — dealing a blow both to life and to religious freedom,” Mallory Quigley, Communications Director at the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life advocacy group, told CNSNews.com in reference to the ACLU lawsuit.
“Abortion does not cure, it does not provide relief or solace for the problems of sexual assault or poverty. Abortion only inflicts further wounds on those already hurting. Religious organizations such as Catholic Relief Services are providing true compassion and care, and the dignity that these young women deserve,” she said.
The ORR regulation anticipated religious freedom objections in its preamble, noting, “ORR is mindful that some potential and existing grantees and contractors may have religious or moral objections to providing certain kinds of services, including referrals (for example, for emergency contraception)."
“ORR is committed to providing resources and referrals for the full range of legally permissible services to UCs (Unaccompanied Children) who need them, helping to facilitate access to these options, and doing so in a timely fashion and in a manner that respects the diverse religious and cultural backgrounds of UCs,” states the rule.
“At the same time, ORR is also committed to finding ways for organizations to partner with us, even if they object to providing specific services on religious grounds,” it states.
The USCCB, along with Catholic Relief Services, the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, and World Relief called the referral option “inadequate” and called for an amendment to the rule providing a “meaningful accommodation” that “frees existing and prospective grantees, contractors, sub-grantees and subcontractors from any requirement to provide, facilitate the provision of, provide information about, or refer or arrange for items or procedures to which they have a religious or moral objection.”