Religious Charities Are Preventing Raped Migrant Children from Accessing Emergency Contraception March 6, 2015

Religious Charities Are Preventing Raped Migrant Children from Accessing Emergency Contraception

“Why do you spend so much time talking about a God you don’t believe in?” The question is sometimes asked with genuine curiosity, but in my experience, it’s usually meant to delegitimize criticism of religion by casting doubt on the critic’s motives. Speaking for myself, the answer is simple… it’s largely because of the gut-wrenching prevalence of stories like this one, from Think Progress, that I’m vocal about my disbelief.

Examining the push by faith-based charities to prevent migrant children who have been raped from accessing emergency contraception and other such care, Esther Yu-Hsi Lee writes:

Estimates suggest that anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of migrant women and girls are raped on their journey as they travel across the southern United States border. But many of the organizations that provide medical care to these migrants are refusing to provide emergency contraception or make pregnancy-related referrals to girls who have been raped. What’s more, the religious organizations that operate these groups are opposing a move by the Obama administration to address epidemic rape of young unaccompanied migrants by requiring contraceptive care.

These groups get sizable grants to provide care; and as we see too often with religious groups, they want the federal funding, but they don’t want to abide by the terms of that funding. Even when the rules allow them to simply refer patients to a facility that will handle the care to which they object, they’re still not happy.

Those children may not receive adequate care after border patrol agents pass them onto group shelter homes, the majority of which are operated by faith-based organizations such as the Baptist Child and Family Services (BCFS), which received $190 million in a single grant last year. But it was the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which received roughly $22.1 million, that sent a letter last week objecting to a Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) that would require federally funded organizations that house unaccompanied migrant children to provide victims of sexual abuse with “unimpeded access to emergency medical treatment, crisis intervention services, emergency contraception, and sexually transmitted infections prophylaxis, in accordance with professionally accepted standards of care, where appropriate under medical or mental health professional standards.”

The rule includes a clause that would allow faith-based organizations to offer external pregnancy-related referrals for unaccompanied children. Grantees that house unaccompanied children could deny services “on religious or moral grounds,” needing only to coordinate with federal staff members who would provide the services. But a letter submitted last week even objected to a referral requirement that would “impose a duty on the conscientious objector to refer for the very item or procedure to which it has a religious or moral objection.” What’s more, the letter co-signers want the ORR to free up organizations “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.”

(If the argument that it’s a substantial burden to fill out paperwork to avoid what is otherwise a legal requirement sounds familiar, that’s because, as Think Progress notes, it’s similar to the Little Sisters of the Poor’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act.)

These groups aren’t just asking for an accommodation; they already have that. They want to ensure that migrant children, even rape victims, don’t have access to the reproductive care they need; and they want the taxpayer to fund them in their efforts to effectively force pregnancy on rape victims.

Which brings me back to my initial point… the religious angle isn’t coincidental. It’s the very source of these objections.

That isn’t to say that faith-based charities can’t do good work or be staffed by well meaning people. It doesn’t mean that secular charities or organizations couldn’t do terrible things either. But the kind of efforts we see inspired by religion are not just the work of lawbreakers or moral outliers. As in this case, they’re fairly mainstream; and, frankly, it’s hard to imagine them existing without the belief that it was ordered by a God.

Would large groups of law-abiding people really work together to ensure that raped children must wind up pregnant, and then be forced to carry through rape pregnancies, if not for religion? Would people think that doing so represented a moral highpoint, if not for religion?

It’s not impossible, but is it likely? Would it be likely on the scale that we see religion inspire? I don’t think so. In fact, I think that most ethical people — including the religious people who fight to force pregnancy on raped children — would recoil at the thought, if there was no God claim in the mix. Why? Because without supernatural backing, moral ideas would have to stand up on their own. Would people really be persuaded, on its own merits, that stopping a raped fourteen-year-old from preventing pregnancy was somehow a moral thing to do?

I don’t think so.

I don’t believe in God or gods because I find no evidence to support the belief; and I’m vocal about that disbelief because it seems to me that there are few things as effective at convincing us to override our humanity as unsubstantiated belief in an allegedly divine God whose dictates cannot be questioned.

As long as religion keep promoting warped ideas as if they were infallible moral absolutes, we need to continue being vocal about it.

(Image via pondspider on Flickr)

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