Quietly on Christmas Eve, the Obama administration changed the rules on handling refugee children who enter the country without their parents and report being victims of sexual assault. All refugee aid groups, including Catholic and other Christian groups, will now be required to refer those girls to facilities that provide abortions.
Religious groups that work with refugees are concerned that the new rules may require them to give up federal funding.
Dr. Susan Yoshihara of the New York and Washington DC-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam) first reported the change last week: “Faith-based groups say this is a contravention of the rights of parents and a violation of the conscience rights of faith-based groups helping resettle the children.”
Yoshihara reported that the new rule was “fast-tracked” and that the administration says it would be “contrary to the public interest to wait until a public notice and comment process is complete.” She reports that the administration rejects the necessity for Congressional comment or approval.
Specifically, the new rules “require faith-based providers to make referrals for emergency contraception, partner with groups that provide for abortion, or notify the federal government that would make arrangement for the abortion.”
In addition to the new rules on abortion, refugee groups will also be required to train their staffs in the complexity of LGBTQI and identify “transgender and intersex” kids. Yoshihara reports, “The rules assert that ‘gender’ refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex,’ and that ‘this term is not to be confused with sex, which refers to a person’s biological status and is typically categorized as male, female, or intersex’.”
The new rules are supposed to help refugee workers identify a child’s sex: “There are a number of indicators of biological sex, including sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia.”
Faith-based groups are fighting back. Catholic and Evangelical groups, including the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, World Relief, World Vision, and the National Association of Evangelicals, told the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “The interim report falls short of adequately protecting [relief groups] with religious or moral objections to providing [services or information] to which such organizations have a religious or moral objection.”
The joint statement says such protections are “not only consistent with longstanding federal policy, but required as a matter of law.”
Groups have until June 24, 2015 to comply with the new rules.