HHS Sued Over Alleged Links to Anti-Abortion Groups

The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), claiming that HHS has failed to provide documents related to the federal funding of “pregnancy-resource centers” accused of providing false and misleading information to its clients. The action is being taken under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). According to CREW, the organization had requested the relevant documents on August 4 of this year, but to this point HHS has refused to comply with the request.

The genesis of the controversy is a July report prepared for Rep. Henry Waxman by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Reform. In the report, titled “False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers,” the researchers found that “the centers provided false and misleading information about a link between abortion and breast cancer…, the effect of abortion on future fertility…, and the mental health effects of abortion.” The CREW suit is seeking access to all documents related to these pregnancy resource centers, their communications with the White House or any other governmental body, their connections to the faith-based initiative program, and the subject of federal funding.

The July report said that 87 percent of the centers they investigated “provided false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion” and that the centers have received more than $30 million in federal funding since 2001, mostly from federal abstinence-only programs. It also noted that many of these individual centers have received funding from other appropriations bills and that 25 centers in 15 states have received grants as part of the $150 million Compassion Capital Fund.

The report also claims that the pregnancy resource centers “are virtually always pro-life organizations whose goal is to persuade teenagers and women with unplanned pregnancies to choose motherhood or adoption. They do not offer abortions or referrals to abortion providers.” The authors accuse the “vast majority of pregnancy centers” of failing to provide “medically accurate information” and of “exaggerating the risks” of abortion.

Much of the funding for the establishment and maintenance of the pregnancy resource centers stems from President Bush’s controversial faith-based initiatives program. A significant portion of the federally funded centers have overt ties to religious and political organizations, including Heartbeat International and Care Net. According to the Congressional report, Heartbeat International describes itself as the “first pro-life network of pregnancy resource centers in the U.S. … supporting, strengthening, and starting nearly 1,000 pregnancy centers to provide alternatives to abortion.” Care Net describes itself as a “Christian ministry assisting and promoting the evangelistic pro-life work of pregnancy centers in North America.”

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