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Is Biden’s HHS targeting pregnancy centers for their pro-life mission? Pro-life Congress Members weigh in.

by | Dec 29, 2023

By Lisa Bourne

The leaders of the U.S. Congress’s pro-life caucuses are leading bicameral opposition to the Biden Administration’s proposed rule targeting pregnancy centers for denial of federal funding to help women facing unplanned pregnancy.

In October the Biden Administration had released a Proposed Rule Change for the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program, a federal assistance program that gives cash assistance to American families in need through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Numerous states give TANF funds to pregnancy help organizations because they help to meet some or all the TANF program’s goals.

The Biden Administration’s Proposed Rule Change, “Strengthening Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) as a Safety Net and Work Program,” targets pregnancy centers and alternatives to abortion programs, threatening to strip them of funds allocated through the states.

Without citing any evidence that pregnancy centers are unlawfully using federal funds for non-TANF purposes, the Proposed Rule Change targets pregnancy centers, completely dismissing the work that pregnancy help organizations do in the other areas, arguing that because pregnancy centers help women after they have become pregnant, instead of having a sole focus on pregnancy prevention, that the centers should not be eligible for TANF funds.

The Proposed Rule Change appears to give HHS the power to determine which organizations can receive TANF funds at its sole discretion, retracting that authority from the states.

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and U.S. Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.-04), chairs of the Senate and House Pro-Life Caucuses, respectively, sent a letter signed by 11 Senators and 19 Members of the U.S. House in early December condemning the Proposed Rule Change and asking HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to immediately withdraw the Proposed Rule.

“Women deserve better than abortion and should receive support when they choose life for their babies,” the Congress Members wrote to Becerra. “For decades, pregnancy centers have stood in the gap and generously provided free assistance to women, babies, and families in their moments of need—actions aligned with TANF’s purposes.” 

“The Proposed Rule, however, would undermine the TANF program and threaten to strip millions of dollars in support for pregnant women and their unborn babies through pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and alternatives to abortion programs,” they said. “We urge you to withdraw the Proposed Rule immediately.”

In the letter the lawmakers walked through the history of the TANF program and its four purposes:

(1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives;

(2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;

(3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and

(4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

The Proposed Rule Change targets pregnancy centers via Purpose Three, specifics of which are available HERE.

The pro-life officials then noted in their letter to Becerra how TANF was formed to allow for the states to administer the funds to address the root causes of poverty at the local level, stating, “TANF’s design reflects Congress’ intent to provide flexibility for States to achieve these purposes, while also ensuring States contribute their own funds under the maintenance of effort requirement.”

Hyde-Smith and Smith and their pro-life colleagues detailed the many services and forms of support delivered by the nation’s 2,700-plus pregnancy centers, stating that they, “provide help, hope, and healing to countless women and families in need, with almost two million people served in 2019.”

They also pointed out the pregnancy centers’ fiscal benefit to U.S. taxpayers.

“Significantly, pregnancy centers save taxpayers many millions of dollars through the work they perform for free, through volunteers and donors, reducing the need for services that would otherwise be provided by the government at the expense of taxpayers,” the legislators wrote in the letter. “The free services and material assistance provided by pregnancy centers had a conservative estimated value of over $266 million in 2019.”

Eighteen states have established alternatives to abortions programs, they said, which usually support pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, maternity homes, and other pertinent social service partners. At least five states give part of their TANF funds to these programs (together totaling millions of dollars each year), including Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. 

The letter also noted how “Pennsylvania’s Democrat Governor Josh Shapiro, however, recently announced he will terminate Pennsylvania’s longstanding contract with the nonprofit Real Alternatives at the end of 2023, ending decades of Pennsylvania’s support for alternatives to abortion through pregnancy centers and maternity homes for pregnant women.”

And it tied the effort to defund pregnancy help organizations with the proposed TANF rule to the spate of attacks on pregnancy help since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade with the June  2022 Dobbs ruling.

“It is troubling that the Proposed Rule specifically targets pregnancy centers at a time when they have come under attack since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” the federal lawmakers told Becerra, “with over 88 violent attacks on pregnancy centers and pro-life groups documented since the leak of the decision in 2022.” 

“Pregnancy centers have also come under siege from pro-abortion politicians and state Attorneys General, which have sought to fine or regulate them out of existence,” they wrote. “Pro-abortion activists and media figures have specially sought to strip pregnancy centers of TANF assistance.”

In their analysis of the proposed rule the Members of Congress express concern that it targets states that give TANF funds to pregnancy help organizations and say that the rule “inaccurately describes” the work of pregnancy help organizations as limited to serving clients after they become pregnant.

“On the contrary,” they wrote, “alternatives to abortion programs offer services and material assistance to pregnant women and their families, which may include parenting classes, training in life skills, sexual risk avoidance education, promoting responsible paternity, promoting marriage, care coordination, housing and support services through maternity homes, assistance with job searching, reducing dependence on government and much more.”

“The mere fact pregnancy centers perform some activities that are outside the scope of TANF’s third purpose does not disqualify them from receiving TANF funds,” they added. “HHS does not cite any evidence that pregnancy centers or others receiving TANF funding under alternatives to abortion programs are unlawfully using Federal funds for non-TANF purposes. This suggests HHS is targeting pregnancy centers for their pro-life mission rather than for any kind of misuse of Federal funds.”

The Proposed Rule is “arbitrary and capricious,” they said, as Planned Parenthood affiliates reported spending $1.04 million in TANF funds in 2018, while TANF funds are prohibited from use for abortion, and HHS has not raised concerns over this. At the same time, HHS is suggesting that TANF support for pregnancy centers should be redirected to family planning programs “more typical of the business models of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry instead.”

“This seems to be another attempt by the Biden administration to funnel taxpayer dollars to the abortion industry,” the coalition of pro-life federal legislators said.

Support for the Congress Members’ endeavor to get the rule dropped by HHS drew marked support from the pro-life community.

The groups officially lending support included Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, CatholicVote, Heartbeat International, Care Net, National Right to Life, March for Life Action, Heritage Foundation, Ethics and Public Policy Center HHS Accountability Project, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Family Policy Alliance, Live Action, Students for Life, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.

The president of Heartbeat International, the largest network of pregnancy help organizations in the U.S. and internationally, offered specific remarks in support.

“Heartbeat International stands with U.S. Senator Hyde-Smith, Congressman Smith and numerous co-signers and thanks them for boldly standing up for pregnancy help organizations and the women they serve,” Jor-El Godsey said. 

“The Proposed Rule Change by HHS poses a significant threat of women being denied pregnancy help through the targeting of pregnancy centers and alternatives to abortion programs,” he said.

“These centers play a crucial role in their communities, not only saving millions of taxpayer dollars but also offering free services to women in need,” said Godsey. “This attempt to strip life-affirming pregnancy help centers of millions of dollars demonstrates the administration’s continued commitment to Big Abortion at the cost of denying women access to the support and resources they need.”

The full letter is available HERE.

Senators signing the letter include: Hyde-Smith and U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-Kan.), and Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.).

House members signing the letter include: Smith and U.S. Representatives Debbie Lesko (Ariz.-08), Michael Guest (Miss.-03), Erin Houchin (Ind.-02), Mary Miller (Ill.-15), Alex X. Mooney (W.Va.-02), Jeff Duncan (S.C.-03), Warren Davidson (Ohio-08), Blaine Luetkemeyer (Mo.-03), John Moolenaar (Mich.-02), Larry Bucshon, M.D. (Ind.-08), James R. Baird (Ind.-04), Jim Banks (Ind.-03), Clay Higgins (La.-03), Keith Self (Texas-03), Garret Graves (La.-06), Robert Aderholt (Ala.-04), and Eric Burlison (Mo.-07).

Editor’s note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News where this first appeared. Reposted with permission.