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The Hill: Top Republican calls for probe into abortion services at community health centers

April 26, 2016
News Stories

The Hill - Sarah Ferris

A top member of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday called for a major investigation into government-funded community health centers after several clinics were found in violation of federal rules on abortion.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who oversees Congress's health spending bills, asked the Obama administration to launch a national probe after government investigators found several federally funded clinics had helped escort young pregnant women to abortion clinics.

In two letters provided to The Hill, Cole said he was “deeply disappointed” that the group, the National Association of Community Health Center (NACHC), had used resources from the national service program AmeriCorps to take part in an abortion escort or “doula” program. The investigation was first reported by The Hill on Tuesday. 

The federal probe will be expansive: There are more than 7,000 community health centers in the U.S., recieving a total of $3.7 billion in federal funding in 2014 alone, according to the NACHC website.

NACHC is one of the largest grant recipients of AmeriCorps and has received about $30 million over five years. Cole said the group's funding should be immediately cut off and the group should be disqualified from future grants.

“Such a blatant disregard for federal law is outrageous,” Cole said of the NACHC program in a letter to the federal agency overseeing AmeriCorps, the Corporation of National Community Service (CNCS).

Cole also called for a full review of other AmeriCorps grant recipients, warning that the organization may have a “systemic problem” with rule compliance.   

According to the federal report, senior leaders at NACHC first assigned AmeriCorps volunteers to the clinic program, known as an abortion “doula” program, in 2013, without consulting its government partners. Staff were aware of the violations as early as 2013 but did not report them, investigators said.

The same group had been warned three years earlier not to allow staff members paid by federal grants to assist with abortion services in any way. Abortion-related work by NACHC was also the subject of a congressional hearing in 2011 after two other health centers that received federal grants were found to have committed “abortion-related prohibited activities.”

Lawyers at the federal community service agency, CNCS, had warned the community health group in 2010 to specifically inform its members about the federal abortion prohibition, which is included in the Service America Act.  

Instead, federal investigators found that NACHC “adopted a narrower restriction.” The group told its staff not to provide a “direct referral,” such as providing an address or insurance information for an abortion clinic.

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps, said in a statement it was “deeply disappointed” one of its partners had again violated federal rules. The agency’s response to the investigation has been far-reaching, with “tough and detailed reforms” to hold groups like the NACHC accountable.

Online: The Hill