A new report finds that members of federally funded community service program violated the law by providing abortion-related services at community health centers. Here is what you should know about the story:
What was the violation?
The office of the inspector general for the Corporation of National Community Service (CNCS-OIG) found that between 2013 and 2015, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) allowed a few AmeriCorps members to provide emotional support (doula care) to women during abortion procedures at three New York City clinics operated by the Institute for Family Health (IFH), a subgrantee. NACHC is one of AmeriCorps’ largest grantees, receiving $ 30 million over the last five years. As the report notes, the organization also receives support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
What is AmeriCorps?
AmeriCorps is an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), created for the purpose of placing “young adults into intensive service positions where they learn valuable work skills, earn money for education, and develop an appreciation for citizenship.” Approximately 70,000 young people participate in the program each year.
The program was created when President Bill Clinton signed into law the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. The Serve America Act of 2009 reauthorized and expanded national service programs, including AmeriCorps, that are administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
What is a community health center?
Community Health Centers (CHCs) are federally funded health clinics that provide access to health care for a predominantly low-income population in medically underserved communities. The are the main way that federal grant funding is used for primary care in the country's health care safety net.
To receive federal funding under Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act, CHCs must meet the following qualifications:
Be located in a federally designated medically under-served area (MUA) or serve medically under-served populations (MUP).
Provide comprehensive primary care.
Adjust charges for health services on a sliding fee schedule according to patient income.
Be governed by a community board of which a majority of members are patients at the CHC.
Why is the federal government prohibited from funding abortion services?
Since 1976, a legislative provision known as the Hyde Amendment has been routinely attached to annual appropriations bills. This measure prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services. Additionally, the Serve America Act lists “Providing abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services” under the list of “prohibited activities.”
Why is this incident significant?
The involvement of AmeriCorps is relatively minor and this is likely to be an isolated incident involving their volunteer. The more significant finding is that taxpayer funded Community Health Centers appear to have been violating federal law.
The NACHC claims that, “Health Centers funded by Section 330 of the PHS Act (also called Federally-Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs) do not provide abortions to any of their patients, and we are not aware of any that have ever done so.” Yet the findings of the CNCS-OIG find that some individual community health centers have been disregarding the law.
The CNCS-OIG also points out:
Investigators discovered that NACHC had disregarded the direction of CNCS’s General Counsel in 2010 to include in its training materials and member agreements the abortion prohibition precisely as stated in the Serve America Act. Instead, NACHC adopted a narrower restriction: “Providing or promoting abortions; Providing a direct referral for an abortion. A referral consists of a name, address, telephone number, and other relevant factual information, such as what insurance is accepted.” The grantee continued to deviate from the prescribed language even after a 2011 Congressional hearing following CNCS’s disclosure that two other grantees had committed abortion‐related prohibited activities. CNCS thereafter communicated repeatedly with all grantees about the need for scrupulous compliance with the prohibitions laid out by Congress.
The lax oversight and failure to clearly state that abortion services are prohibited raises concerns about whether the NACHC is using taxpayer money for immoral purposes. However, as the Alliance Defending Freedom says, “The fact that some CHCs, like hospitals and some other Medicaid providers, may have performed some isolated abortions does not place them on the same moral plane with [Planned Parenthood] the nation's largest abortionist.”