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Organizations that oppose legal abortion and cast themselves on the “pro-life” side of the ledger are reportedly in a tiff because their latest darling, Obria, which adds a medical component to crisis pregnancy counseling centers to capture patients and public health care dollars, has agreed to refer for contraception in order to quality for $5.1 million in federal Title X funding for its Southern California clinics.
LifeSiteNews reports that it was tipped off by anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson (who’s the subject of the anti-Planned Parenthood movie Unplanned) that Obria CEO Kathleen Eaton Bravo met recently with officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who made it clear that under the terms of the grant, “all CA [California] Obria medical clinics are required and will be referring for contraception.
According to Obria, as part of the grant, it has agreed to provide “family planning services, such as reproductive planning, preventative services, and training in fertility awareness-based methods (natural family planning).”
It’s the “preventive services” component, which is apparently a roundabout way of saying contraceptives, that has alarmed other anti-abortion activists. They note that other pro-life women’s health centers have been knocked out of the running for Title X grants because they didn’t provide contraception and refused even to refer women to other facilities to receive it.
The Pro-Women’s Healthcare Consortium, which positions itself similarly to Obria, told LifeSiteNews that it turned down Title X funding after extensive consultation with HHS confirmed they would have to make accommodations for contraceptive access: “The consortium members would not refer for contraception for family planning reasons because it is not in the best interests of a woman’s health. There are safer and more effective methods of family planning.”
That’s the rub where these so-called comprehensive women’s health facilities are concerned. They purport to be a way for women to receive access to a wide array of health care services, including STD screening, prenatal care, and well-women services, without having to darken the door of an abortion provider like Planned Parenthood. To the public, they’re presenting themselves as a reasonable alternative to “big abortion.”
But in reality, many of these providers also object to contraception with nearly as much vehemence as abortion, claiming that it’s dangerous to women’s health and unnecessary. This echoes the conservative Catholic and increasingly Christian right expectation that women should only have sex for reproductive purposes and should abstain from sex if they don’t wish to become pregnant—or rely on less-than-effective natural family planning methods that are ill-equipped to the family planning needs of many women.
Obria CEO Bravo has referred to hormonal contraceptive methods as “a carcinogen.” Bravo confirmed to Jezebel that Obria would not “distribute contraceptives.” She said, “Our mission is to provide life-affirming health care services, and that is what we do.”
Abby Johnson relayed a similar animus toward contraception, telling LifeSiteNews that “a woman’s fertility is a sign of health and should not be ‘broken’ by dangerous hormonal methods.”
Johnson also noted that any move on Obria’s part to provide access to contraceptives would “be troubling for Catholics who fund Obria through private donations” because it’s not in line with the church’s teaching that any contraceptive methods outside of natural family planning are immoral. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has given substantial financial support to Obria based on its support for only natural family planning methods.
LifeSiteNews described any agreement to facilitate access to contraceptives as a “compromise” of Obria’s “[pro-life] principles.”
And even if Obria were to agree to refer women who want contraceptives to other facilities, this could still leave women without contraceptive access. According to a Vox analysis of a Guttmacher Institute report:
…there are 103 counties in the United States where Planned Parenthood is the only provider of publicly funded contraceptives. In an additional 229 counties, Planned Parenthood serves the majority of women who are low-income and qualify for government help paying for birth control.
Since the money going to the Obria clinics in Southern California is being redirected from Planned Parenthood clinics under the Trump administration’s “Protect Life Rule” that bans any facility that provides abortion from receiving Title X funding—which could increase what Kaiser Health News has termed “contraception deserts” where women lack access to any low-cost contraceptive providers—it’s not clear where Obria will refer low- and moderate-income women for contraceptives. This presumably could increase both the rate of unplanned pregnancies and abortion.
It’s increasingly clear, however, that “pro-life” clinics like Obria aren’t about reducing abortion, or even giving women an alternative to Planned Parenthood. They’re about creating reproductive health deserts where women have no access to either abortion or contraception, only the conservative Christian and Catholic Right concept of correct, reproductive sexuality.