Actually, this may not be the best possible example of someone “basing legislation and public policy on science and ethics rather than their personal belief system”.
This is a knotty story, so bear with me.
The US Department of Health and Human Services offered grants for agencies providing services helping the victims of human trafficking. This wasn’t a new development; they were already grant-aiding agencies for this purpose, but the grants were expiring and were being renewed. Both existing and new providers were invited to tender for the renewed grants (as is usual). There was a fixed amount of grant money available, but no fixed number of grants to be provided; the grant money was to be shared among all the qualified tenderers in the way which the Department felt would best meet its legislative and policy priorities.
An assessment framework against which the tenders would be measured was announced, and a review panel established to review the tenders. This was all done before the tenders were submitted, so that tenderers would know how their tenders would be judged and compared. They knew the range of services they were asked to provide, and in their tenders they were asked to say how they would provide them, and to demonstrate their competence, experience, qualifications, resources, etc for providing them.
Six agencies tendered; one of these, MRS, is an agency of the US Catholic Bishops Conference. (As it happens, MRS was one of the agencies already in receipt of the expiring grants, and already providing the services concerned, although that wasn’t supposed to confer any advantage or disadvantage in tendering for the new grants.)
The outcome of the review process was a finding by the panel that four of the six tenderers failed to make the competence cutoff. The panel recommended that the grant money be divided between the two qualified tenderers.
One of these was MRS, the bishops’ agency. MRS was marked down on account of its refusal to refer for contraceptives and abortions. Nevertheless it was marked very highly in relation to other skills and competencies, and overall was only narrowly below the highest-ranked tenderer, an outfit called HHS.
In the event, though, the Health and Human Services Secretary rejected the recommendation of her own review panel, and divided the grant money between three agencies - HHS, and two of the agencies which overall had failed to meet the cutoff.
The controversy here is not that the Department wished to fund referrals for contraception and abortion; that was explicit in the assessment framework the Department published at the outset. The controversy is that after receiving and assessing the tenders the Department appears to have changed its priorities, elevating the provision of contraception and abortion referrals from one item feeding into an overall assessment, making it instead an independent absolute requirement, while simultaneously downgrading other skills and competencies so that agencies which lacked them to the degree previously indicated as necessary could still be awarded grants.
This isn’t really a great example of “policy informed by science and ethics”. You can certainly make the case that reproductive services are among the things that should be provided to the victims of human trafficking, and that a reluctance to provide them should count very strongly against a tenderer, or even exclude them. If that’s your policy, though, you should say that that’s your policy. In fact the Department stated a different policy. And there is an obvious issue of both fairness and of efficient public policy in inviting people to tender against a stated criteria, and then assessing their tenders against different criteria.
And suspicion about motives can only be increased when the Department grants money to agencies which, although willing to provide referrals for reproductive services, failed to demonstrate that they could provide the other services to the expected degree. A policy that the only thing the victims of human trafficking need is reproductive health care is not one that can easily be justified by an appeal to “science and ethics”.
It’s the combination of these two things that is very hard to justify. It looks awfully like a realization that insisting on reproductive care will exclude the Catholics, so we insist on it, but insisting on anything else will exclude the non-Catholics, so we don’t insist on it.
Now, other explanations are possible. The Department may have decided, for example, that their own review process was fundamentally flawed so that nether the high rating for MRS or the low rating for other agencies could be relied upon. But the Department isn’t saying that, as far as I have read. And, until they do say that and produce some, you know, actual evidence in support of it, this decision does not look like a good example of policy informed by science and ethics. It looks like a shambles.