UPDATE, June 18, 2:54 p.m.: Obria Group on June 14 dropped its lawsuit against HHS.
Obria Group, a network of anti-choice clinics, is suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because the organization is required—for now—to provide abortion referrals with the Title X funding it received.
The Trump administration hopes to ban abortion referrals at clinics that receive Title X funding and force providers to physically and financially separate abortion services from family planning services. The federal family planning program serves around 4 million mostly low-income people in the United States.
This gutting of Title X, known as the domestic “gag rule,” was blocked by the courts in April. That has put Obria Group, an anti-choice organization that secured $1.7 million in federal family planning money for fiscal year 2019, in a tough spot. As long as Trump’s domestic gag rule is held up in the courts, Obria Group has to operate by current Title X rules, and its clinic would have to offer non-directive abortion counseling and referrals when requested by a Title X patient.
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Obria Group sued HHS last week, claiming the current Title X requirements violate the anti-choice group’s First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows health-care providers to discriminate based on their religious beliefs.
In its lawsuit, Obria claims that the organization’s clinics operate “pursuant to and consistent with their Christian religious beliefs concerning the inviolable dignity of every person, particularly those often treated without regard in society, such as the poor, the sick, and the unborn. Obria and Obria SoCal have sincere religious beliefs that it would be immoral and sinful for them to assist in ending an unborn life, including by referral for abortion.”
The anti-choice clinic network may find a sympathetic ear within the Trump administration, which in 2018 established a health-care discrimination wing of HHS, overseen by anti-LGBTQ activist Roger Severino.
“One wonders why Obria chose to apply, repeatedly, for a grant with requirements Obria now says are antithetical to its religious beliefs,” said Alice Huling, counsel for the Campaign for Accountability, in a statement to Rewire.News. “It appears that Obria was counting on never actually having to provide the healthcare services covered by the Title X funding it applied for and received.
The Campaign for Accountability, a watchdog group investigating Obria’s relationship with Trump’s HHS, has documented questionable aspects of Obria’s Title X applications.
Obria Group’s decision to sue HHS, Huling said, exposes the true intention of Trump’s domestic “gag rule” to divert funding for real health-care clinics to centers operated by anti-choice activists who have long opposed the Title X program.
“Patients should not be denied access to Title X services based upon the religious beliefs of the grant recipient administering their care,” Huling said. “The Title X program is meant to provide comprehensive family planning, and HHS should not grant Title X funding to an organization that refuses to provide the requisite healthcare services.”