Low-income individuals and families in California will be able to receive taxpayer-funded services from a Catholic-backed pro-life health care network, thanks to a federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services and the end of a rule that required grantees to give abortion counseling.
“With this grant, the administration has opened up a new avenue of health care choices for low income and underserved women and their families in California,” Kathleen Eaton Bravo, founder and CEO of Obria Group, said March 29. “Many women want the opportunity to visit a professional, comprehensive health care facility – not an abortion clinic – for their health care needs; today HHS gave women that choice.”
The $1.7 million grant for 2019 will be used to expand services to low income individuals and families in four California counties. The grant could total up to $5.1 million through 2022, provided funds are available, the grantee complies with standards, and the project shows progress.
Before the Trump administration’s February change to federal rules, Title X-funded providers were required to counsel patients that abortion is an option to end pregnancy, a requirement dating back to the Clinton administration in the 1990s. That requirement discouraged many prospective grantees from applying.
Obria describes itself as “a nonprofit affiliate network of full-service medical clinics providing professional, comprehensive, and life-affirming care to low income women and men across the country.”
Its clinics do not perform abortions and do not provide contraceptives. It offers “comprehensive care” including pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, breast and cervical cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and full prenatal care. It provides some remote medical care through a specialized smartphone app, which Obria said reduces barriers to quality health care.
“Obria clinics also provide parenting classes, adoption counseling and referral, sexual risk avoidance education, as well as referrals to other health and legal resources,” the network said on its website.
The organization launched in the 1990s as Birth Choice Pregnancy Centers, beginning as a volunteer-run nonprofit, the New York Times said.
At present Obria has eight affiliates with 21 clinics in five states. In addition, it has 11 mobile clinics. It is staffed by 126 employees, 78 of whom are licensed doctors and nurses. Another 15 affiliates are pending, which could expand its number of clinics by another 20.
Obria’s medical advisory board includes obstetrician-gynecologists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. It is fully licensed and five of its eight affiliates are accredited through the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. Accreditation is underway for the other three affiliates.
Under the terms of the federal grant, Obria is the main recipient and will supervise the work of seven subgrantees, including three of its California affiliates.
Two of the four subgrantee clinics provide contraceptives but won’t be allowed to use the Title X family planning grant funds to pay for it, an HHS spokesperson told The Hill.
Tim Head, president of the advocacy group Faith & Freedom Coalition, said the grant to Obria represented a victory after decades of work.
“For decades, multiple Congresses and presidential administrations, the pro-life movement has fought to at least slow federal tax subsidies for abortion providers but has failed to do so — until now,” Head told the New York Times.
Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It gives out about $250 million in grants each year.
The HHS also announced multiple three-year Tile X grants to seven Planned Parenthood affiliates, with the total running at least $16 million, according to HHS grant listings. The department is cutting grants to some Planned Parenthood affiliates. Four affiliates in Hawaii, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia, lost funding. These serve about 40,000 people in their regions.
Direct federal funding of abortion is usually barred by law, but the abortion provider receives grants for other services.
Planned Parenthood was critical of Obria, its fellow HHS grantee, as well as the Trump administration.
“Today, they are removing funding from these trusted health centers and providing funding to entities that do not provide evidence-based treatment,” objected Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood.
She contended there was a “continued attack” on Title X that will result in “dismantling our nation’s program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care, risking access to comprehensive health care for millions of low-income women and families.”
Essential Access Health, another California-based grantee, received $21 million for fiscal year 2019 to provide family planning services.
Julie Rabinovitz, president and CEO of Essential Access Health, said her organization was “very concerned” by the grant to Obria, alleging “they’re denying women information about all their health care options.” She said this could reduce progress in “reducing unintended pregnancies.”
New rules remove the abortion counseling requirement and require a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions, meaning that abortion clinics will be ineligible. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.
HHS announced these changes Feb. 22, characterizing them as the “Protect Life Rule.”
In February March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said the move prevents Title X funds “from being misused by those who promote and profit from abortion.”
“Abortion is not healthcare, yet for decades the federal government has voluntarily supported abortion by subsidizing the industry with hundreds of millions of tax dollars every year,” she said.
Planned Parenthood could lose about $60 million in federal funds annually due to the rule change. The organization is still eligible for federal funds that are not part of Title X. Last year, Planned Parenthood received more than $500 million in federal funding.
Planned Parenthood and Democratic-governed states have filed lawsuits challenging the new rules.
While critics of abortion have long opposed giving Title X funds to the largest abortion provider in the U.S., Planned Parenthood has come under renewed controversy since Center for Medical Progress videos appeared to show leaders involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts.
Other critics of the Obria grant include the Campaign for Accountability advocacy group. Its counsel Alice Huling charged that the grant shows the Trump administration is “more interested in courting religious ideologues than in providing real health care to low-income Americans.”
The group has filed suit seeking Obria’s communications with the Trump administration. The New York Times said the group has found tax filings showing it has backing from Catholic Church organizations.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has donated about $2.5 million to the Obria network, while the Diocese of Orange has given about $560,000.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, is a member of Obria’s national advisory board.