Right-wing media falsely claim health center provision will fund abortion

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Right-wing media sources have falsely claimed that funding for community health centers (CHCs) included in the recently-passed health care reform legislation will fund abortions. In fact, CHCs do not perform abortions, and the Department of Health and Human Services states that federal regulations ban the use of the CHC funds for abortions except in cases already allowed under current law.

Right-wing media falsely claim new CHC funds will be used to perform abortions

Wash. Post's Parker: "There's nothing to stop" CHCs from funding abortions with health care reform funds. In her March 28 Washington Post column, Kathleen Parker wrote that "the health-care-reform measure does an end run around Hyde by directly appropriating billions of dollars into a new CHC fund," and thus "those billions appropriated to CHCs simply are not covered by Hyde." She added that while it is "currently true" that abortions are not performed at CHCs, "Under the new law, they can. There's nothing to stop them."

Huckabee: Hyde "does not apply" to CHC funding; CHCs the "most likely place for abortion funding." On the March 27 edition of his Fox News program, Mike Huckabee stated: "The community health centers, where the -- most likely place for abortion funding happens is outside of the funding of the Health and Human Services budget, which is where the Hyde Amendment applies. It does not apply to the specific funding stream of the community health organizations."

Diller: CHC funding "not restricted by the Hyde Amendment," is "without restrictions on the use of the money for abortion." In a March 29 CNSNews.com commentary piece, anti-abortion activist Rita Diller wrote that the CHC funding "appears in the bill without restrictions on the use of the money for abortion. It is not restricted by the Hyde Amendment, since the Hyde Amendment applies only to funds flowing through the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill."

CHCs do not perform abortions

CHC national association: Centers "do not perform abortions to any of their patients." In a statement responding to "concerns on health centers and abortion," the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) said: "Existing 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 done so. Health Centers do not plan to, nor are they seeking to, become providers of abortion."

HHS: Federal regulations ban use of CHC funds for abortions

According to a Department of Health and Human Services legal memo obtained by Mother Jones, "there have existed for over 30 years regulations that prohibit federal funds from being used for abortion services in programs administered by" the agency handling the CHC funding. From the memo:

The Senate-approved health reform legislation would establish a new Community Health Center (CHC) Fund, which would provide additional federal funds for community health centers to provide services under the existing CHC grants program administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency within the Public Health Service (PHS). There have been concerns that the Senate bill does not include an explicit provision that would subject these new funds to the abortion-related restrictions under the Hyde Amendment. Regardless of whether the Senate bill would do so, there have existed for over 30 years regulations that prohibit federal funds from being used for abortion services in programs administered by HRSA and other PHS agencies, except in cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered. 42 C.F.R. §§ 50.301, et seq.

These regulations on their face would apply to these new funds. 42 C.F.R. § 50.301 provides that the prohibition on abortion funding applies to "programs or projects for health services which are supported in whole or in part by Federal financial assistance, whether by grant or contract, appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services and administered by the Public Health Service." Accordingly, these regulations apply to the CHC grants program administered by HRSA. See 56 Fed. Reg. 11,453 (1991); 56 Fed. Reg. 8356 (1991); 46 Fed. Reg. 10016 (1981) (delegating the administration of the CHC grants program to HRSA, a PHS agency). Notably, these regulations apply to the $2 billion that were appropriated for community health centers in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last year.

42 C.F.R. § 50.303 unequivocally mandates that "Federal financial participation is not available for the performance of an abortion in programs or projects to which this subpart applies" except under specified circumstances. These specified circumstances are limited to those in which the life of the woman would be endangered, 42 C.F.R. § 50.304, or in cases of rape or incest, 42 C.F.R. § 50.306.

Accordingly, regardless of concerns that the Senate bill might not subject these new funds to the abortion-related restrictions under the Hyde Amendment, these new funds would in fact be subject to such restrictions by virtue of these regulations.

CHC national association, health law expert: Hyde amendment abortion restrictions apply to health reform's CHC funding

NACHC: We "expect" that Hyde "would continue to apply" to CHCs. In its statement, the National Association of Community Health Centers wrote: "Given that both the new Community Health Center Fund dollars and current appropriations funding will be used in combination by HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services], we would expect that the current 'Hyde' prohibition would continue to apply to all Health Centers and their operations."

Health law expert Jost: CHC funds "cannot be used to pay for abortions." Health law expert and Washington and Lee law professor Timothy Stoltzfus Jost states in his analysis of congressional legislation and abortion (emphasis added):

The Senate bill creates a new Community Health Center Fund to which it appropriates $7 billion between 2011 and 2015. Last year community health centers provided prenatal, perinatal, and post-natal/post-partum care to 1 of every 8 children born in the United States, and community health centers are expected to play a key role in providing health care to Americans newly eligible for Medicaid under the legislation. Because this funding is not just authorized but also appropriated by the bill, it has been argued that it is not subject to the Hyde amendment provisions of the annual HHS appropriations act. The Senate bill, however, provides that this funding is to be transferred to HHS accounts to increase funding for community health centers and does not provide for segregating these funds. Since all other HHS funding, including expenditures from trust funds, is subject to the Hyde Amendment, these funds cannot be used to pay for abortions.

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