Crisis Pregnancy Centers and Obama’s Faith-Based Initiative

Kate Sheppard has a report at Mother Jones about the efforts of Florida Republican Cliff Stearns (who supports ending federal funding of family planning services) to push federal funding for ultrasound equipment for crisis pregnancy centers. Sheppard:

Crisis pregnancy centers—often run by religious groups—received $30 million from HHS between 2001 and 2006 for abstinence-only programs and other projects, according to a 2006 House Energy and Commerce Committee report. The HHS grant database indicates another $9.3 million in grants were given to CPCs since 2007.

But even the Obama administration has continued to fund CPCs, in a way that one might not immediately notice: through the National Fatherhood Initiative.

In writing about the recently passed South Dakota law requiring women seeking abortions to have a private consultation at a CPC, Michelle Goldberg noted, “such centers are religious outfits that mimic the look of women’s health clinics, often deliberately imitating their logos and signage, but which exist solely to convince women not to abort,” by, among other things, using religion and feeding women false and misleading medical information. Goldberg argued that because of the religious nature of CPCs, the new South Dakota law violates church-state separation; Amanda Marcotte similarly made the point that “by passing this legislation, South Dakota has managed to forefront the theocratic bent of the anti-choice movement.”

More detail on CPCs can be found in RD contributor Kathryn Joyce’s expose of CPCs in Ms. last year detailing ties to anti-abortion extremists, and RH Reality Check’s 2009 investigation into centers’ deceptions.

A key program of Obama’s Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is promotion of responsible fatherhood. Although the White House is insistent that funding for faith-based groups is not decided by the faith-based offices housed at a dozen federal agencies, these groups do receive funding as a result of the “level playing field” on which faith-based groups have competed with secular groups since the Bush administration. (Under the level playing field rule, a federal agency can’t deny a faith-based group funding just because it’s a faith-based group.) And while the Obama administration sets out (more than two years after the creation of Obama’s faith-based office) to work on regulations that are intended to ensure that faith-based groups do not cross church-state separation lines with taxpayer money, organizations receiving federal money continue to operate under Bush-era rules. In other words, there is no official monitoring function in place to ensure that organizations operating with federal grants do not proselytize, or that they do provide beneficiaries with secular alternatives.

Under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Fatherhood Initiative gives out “capacity building” grants which are intended to “develop these organizations’ capacity to effectively serve families and fathers in their communities.” One 2011 awardee is the Care Net Crisis Pregnancy Center in Rapid City, South Dakota. Another is the Sav-A-Life Pregnancy Test Center (no mystery about its position, right?) in Birmingham, Alabama. On the National Fatherhood Initiative website, Sav-A-Life describes its mission as “to help men and women embrace the truth of God’s Word as they make life-affirming decisions about their unborn child.” Aha. There’s the fatherhood part.

It may come as a surprise to Obama supporters, and in particular supporters of his promotion of responsible fatherhood, that his efforts in that regard are using taxpayer money to fund organizations that use a religious bludgeon to convince women not to have abortions (and, it seems, convince men that they should similarly persuade their partners). I suppose you could make a hypertechnical argument that their fatherhood grants might be used for a different purpose. But even if the federal money is used for some other project, that segregation of funds argument is the one that the Republican enemies of Planned Parenthood completely reject, saying that they don’t want any federal money, regardless of its purpose, going to an organization that performs abortions.

Seems like the same argument should be made about the CPCs.