An Anti-Choice Group Pledged It Would ‘Never’ Provide Contraception as It Pursued Title X Funds

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An Anti-Choice Group Pledged It Would ‘Never’ Provide Contraception as It Pursued Title X Funds

Dennis Carter

Two months before the Obria Group got a $1.7 million family planning grant, its CEO emailed supporters to promise it would "never provide hormonal contraception."

An organization operating anti-choice clinics chased family planning funds from the Trump administration by pledging to provide a “broad range” of contraceptive services—while telling its supporters a different story.

The California-based Obria Group recently received $1.7 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Title X money that is supposed to support family planning services. The group said in a separate 2019 funding application for Texas that the group’s partner clinics would provide a “’broad range of family planning methods’ including several contraception options,” according to a report released Monday by the Campaign for Accountability, a watchdog group. While Obria’s application for the Texas grant was rejected, the group was awarded Title X funding for California—a grant of $1.7 million in fiscal year 2019, with the possibility to be renewed for two more years for a total of $5.1 million.

But on Obria Group’s web page about the recent Title X grant from the Trump administration, the organization admits its clinics “do not provide contraceptives and do not do abortions.” The Obria website says its clinics will use the federal funding to push “fertility awareness-based methods,” or what the group calls “natural family planning.”

The group’s CEO has explicitly promised its supporters that it would not provide contraception. A month after Politico reported in December 2018 that Obria was applying for Title X grants that involved providing contraception, founder and CEO Kathleen Bravo sent an email to reassure supporters.

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“Obria’s clinic model is committed to never provide hormonal contraception nor abortions! Obria promotes abstinence-based sexual risk avoidance education — the most effective public health model for promoting healthy behaviors,” Bravo wrote in the January email, according to the Campaign for Accountability report.

In 2015, Bravo told a reporter, “I would close my doors before [providing abortion referrals or contraception].”

“Obria appears to be talking out of both sides of its mouth,” Alice Huling, counsel for the Campaign for Accountability, said in a statement. “We know that Obria committed to HHS, in at least one Title X application, that it would provide access to several forms of birth control. Yet Obria has also assured its anti-contraception supporters and religious allies that it will never provide or refer for birth control. Both of these assertions cannot be true.”

The Campaign for Accountability’s report, “Trolling For Title X Funds,” details Obria Group’s rise as an anti-choice clinic network, applying for and receiving state and federal funds along the way. Obria’s network of anti-choice health clinics, or crisis pregnancy centers, has been helped by donations from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, at least one congressional earmark, and now the Trump administration’s war against family planning programs that follow medical science instead of anti-abortion and anti-contraception propaganda.

The group’s successful bid for Title X funding in California came after a failed application in 2018. In 2017, an HHS official connected Clare Venegas, president of Obria Medical Clinics of Southern California, with Steven Valentine, who was the associate director for policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, according to the Campaign for Accountability report. Valentine—who previously worked for the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List—said he’d arrange a call with Venegas to discuss “if there are any HHS grants that [Obria] might qualify for.”

Meanwhile, the HHS official in charge of Title X funding is the former head of an anti-choice clinic group.

Title X provides family planning and related services to more than 4 million primarily low-income people in the United States. The Trump administration in February issued a domestic “gag rule,” barring abortion care referrals at clinics that receive Title X funding. A federal judge in April issued a nationwide injunction against Trump’s Title X policy changes.

Obria Group is hardly the only anti-choice clinic network with financial support from government officials and lawmakers sympathetic to abortion rights foes. State legislatures controlled by Republicans have poured millions into clinics staffed by anti-choice activists who often try to trick pregnant people out of seeking abortion services.

Contraceptives supplied at Title X clinics have contributed to a sharp decline in unintended pregnancy rates, according to a 2017 Guttmacher Institute analysis. Unintended pregnancy among teens would have been 44 percent higher without Title X, while unplanned pregnancies and abortions would have risen by nearly one-third without the federal family planning program.