Health Care

Top GOP rep. calls for probe into abortion services at community health centers

A top member of the House Appropriations Committee is calling for a major investigation into government-funded community health centers, after a report found that several clinics violated federal rules on abortion.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who oversees Congress’s health spending bills, on Tuesday 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.

{mosads}In two letters provided to The Hill, Cole said he was “deeply disappointed” that the National Association of Community Health Centers (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.

The 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 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 the NACHC first assigned AmeriCorps volunteers to the clinic 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 AmeriCorps program 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 AmeriCorps was also the subject of a congressional hearing in 2011, after staff were found to be working in a Planned Parenthood.

Lawyers at the 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 the 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 CNCS 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.

– This post was updated April 28 at 8 a.m. 

Tags Abortion AmeriCorps Corporation for National and Community Service Tom Cole

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