Faith-based groups should not be forced to participate in abortions when they help child refugees, the Obama administration has been told.
In a letter, five organisations including the National Association of Evangelicals and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, criticise new standards to prevent, detect and respond to sexual abuse and harassment involving unaccompanied children.
“Faith-based organizations excel in caring for all people, and the right of those organizations to do so consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions must be respected”, they comment.
According to the proposals, if a child is pregnant as a result of sexual abuse, a care provider must ensure that she receives “timely access to all lawful pregnancy-related medical services”.
This appears to include abortions, the groups note, before adding: “The text of the rule includes no religious or moral exception”.
Organisations who receive Government money to help vulnerable refugee children have until June to comply with the rules, or they will lose federal grants.
Susan Yoshihara, from Roman Catholic group Center For Family and Human Rights, said: “You should be able to settle these children without providing these services”, adding, “But that’s not going to be the case come June 24.”
While accepting that the Government has attempted to create some accommodation for organisations with a religious ethos, the faith-based groups say that they fall short.
They explain that one exception only features in the preamble rather than in the actual text and another could require the groups to refer children onto other organisations for abortion.
The Government “should adopt a meaningful accommodation” which is clear in the text of the rules and which frees faith-based groups or their contractors from any participation in “items or procedures to which they have a religious or moral objection”.
They also point out that humanitarian assistance began with religious groups, and so the responses of the faith community to the standards are “older and more deeply rooted than the responses of the federal government or secular humanitarian organizations”.
The standards also require groups to train their staff on issues surrounding sexuality, using the term “LGBTQI”, which is applied to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or intersex.
The rules, described as at an “interim final” stage, came into effect in December and groups are urged to comply with them as soon as possible.