Op/Ed: Community health centers betray pro-life trust

Congressman claims federal funds used to pay for abortions

By Joe Pitts, U.S. Rep., 16th District


U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-16)

There are 237 Community Health Center sites in Pennsylvania. Their umbrella organization, the National Association of Community Health Centers, declares that their mission is to serve over 23 million people at more than 9,000 sites to address the widespread lack of access to basic health care.

Basic health care that doesn’t include abortion. Or so we thought.

For decades, lawmakers have had concerns about sending federal dollars to entities that provide abortions. Technically, no federal funds can be used by these entities for the abortions themselves, but when the organizations receive tax payer money, it does increase their overall top line. The funding bump then allows the entities to use more of their discretionary funds to perform abortions.

Enter Community Health Centers. 

Community Health Centers offered a viable alternative to these entities, as they provided all the women’s health services minus the abortions. The National Association of Community Health Centers assured lawmakers and pro-life groups in 2010, “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 factcheck.org relayed the Association’s assurances that not only did none of its health centers provide abortion services, they had no plans to do so.

So, Congress pushed for funding that would normally go to organizations that provide abortions to be funneled to Community Health Centers instead. Community Health Centers were the perfect solution: they satisfied everyone involved because they administered women’s healthcare, and they didn’t provide abortions.

Until they did.

Major revelations about the Association came to light through the activities of a few AmeriCorps volunteers in New York. The Office of Inspector General for the federal agency over AmeriCorps published a report on April 26, 2016 disclosing the details. 

AmeriCorps assigned volunteers to the National Association for Community Health Centers, and some of them volunteered at various Community Health Center sites in New York. At these sites, the volunteers were allowed to assist women in obtaining abortions by providing what’s called “abortion doula care”– even though federal law expressly prohibits the use of AmeriCorps resources to provide abortion services. 

These activities didn’t occur under the cover of night; the National Association of Community Health Centers sanctioned them. The Program Director for the National Association knew this illegal activity was occurring and allowed it to continue for two years.

However, the real clincher is where the abortions took place. The abortion procedures occurred at New York City clinics operated by the Institute for Family Health– a subgrantee of the National Association of Community Health Centers.

In other words, abortions were being performed at Community Health Centers– Community Health Centers that the National Association unequivocally promised in 2010 “do not provide abortions to any of their patients.”

Community Health Centers have been receiving federal funding under the guise that they are not, and have had no plans to, furnish abortions. Now we know that is not the case.

This is an astonishing violation of trust. It’s not fair to the taxpayers, and it’s not fair to the representatives who steward their tax dollars.

First of all, we need to find out how widespread the performing of abortions is at Community Health Centers across the country.

This past week my office met with the National Association of Community Health Centers, and it was made clear that the breadth of clinics performing abortions was unknown. It’s possible that such activity extended well beyond the network of New York Community Health Centers exposed in the Inspector General’s report.

 Of course, we don’t know that for sure. But we need to find out.

If it’s not widespread, and truly just one network of Community Health Center clinics in New York was secretly performing abortions, then the National Association needs to make its stance clear by publicly condemning the actions of the network. If the network refuses to cease performing abortions, the National Association should expel it from the Association.

There have to be serious repercussions for misleading American taxpayers and gaining coveted tax dollars in the process. It’s time for the National Association of Community Health Centers to face the music.

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One Comment

  1. Kate says:

    Abortion is a legal, constitutionally-protected medical procedure that 1/3 of women will utilize during their lifetime. Basic health care, contra Mr Pitts, DOES include abortion. The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal dollars for abortion services, is a disgrace. Is there any other common medical procedure for which federal dollars are prohibited? If your religion proscribes abortion, you are free not to get one, but your religion should not dictate my legal medical choices. (For the record, my tax dollars go towards quite a number of things that I don’t personally agree with, but I accept that in a democracy, there are things my government will pay for that I don’t support.) Time to get rid of the Hyde Amendment. Community health centers should be providing the full range of legal medical services, including abortion, that women need.

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