Another Reason Health Centers Won’t Fund Abortions

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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.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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