Another Reason Health Centers Won’t Fund Abortions

My story today is about how a silly mistake by Senate Democrats—forgetting to add explicit abortion restrictions to $7 billion in community health center funding in the Senate health care bill—opened them up to claims that the money would fund abortion. (You should read it.)

One of the article’s key points is that even though the omission of explicit abortion language made it easier for pro-life groups to criticize the bill, it didn’t actually mean the community health center money would go to fund abortions. Community health centers don’t provide abortions, they never have, and they don’t plan to do so in the future. Moreover, Kathleen Sebelius, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has promised the money won’t be used for abortions. And since the money will end up in the same “pot” as other money that is subject to abortion restrictions, it will be treated as if it did have restrictive language attached.

That’s all pretty clear-cut. But if those points aren’t enough for you, HHS has another one. In a legal memo (PDF) obtained by Mother Jones, HHS lawyers say that “there have existed for over 30 years regulations that prohibit federal funds from being used for abortion services in programs administered by” the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which is the agency that will be handling the new community health center funding. Bottom line:

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.

That’s another arrow in the quiver for folks who have been arguing that the Senate’s big flub won’t matter in practice.