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Biden takes on anti-abortion pregnancy centers before 2024 election

Jonathan D. Salant, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — In advance of the 2024 presidential election where abortion rights again will be a major issue, the Biden administration has proposed ending federal funding for centers that counsel pregnant women against having abortions.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' proposed changes to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families mentions what are called crisis pregnancy centers as examples of spending that likely no longer would be permitted under the program that helps low-income families.

This latest effort comes as the right to abortion has become one of the dominant political issues ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision. Just last week, Pennsylvania Democrats held on to their narrow state House majority when Jim Prokopiak won an open seat in the Philadelphia suburbs and said abortion rights played a major role in his win.

"Unfortunately, this president has integrated abortion into every policy," said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., one of the leading anti-abortion advocates in Congress. "He's the abortion president and I put exclamation points after that."

The program, a block grant that replaced Aid to Families With Dependent Children, provides funding for states to help low-income households, to help parents find jobs, and to prevent "the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies" through sex education, family planning and other programs. The states have wide latitude in how to spend the money, and some of it has been going to crisis pregnancy centers, including in Pennsylvania. But in proposing the new rule, HHS said any link between the centers and "preventing and reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies is tenuous or non-existent."

HHS said the proposal isn't directed at any specific entity but rather is designed to ensure that states use the money to help low-income families, as required under the law.

 

But House Republicans see the proposal as an attack on the crisis pregnancy centers, and every GOP member voted last month to block HHS from moving ahead with the new rule. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate, but it will have a tough time passing in a chamber controlled by Democrats.

"What we're really trying to do is help pregnant women," said U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa. "Why wouldn't you want these pregnancy centers where people can go and get the counseling that they need and the aid that they need? They want to make it about abortion. We want to make it about prenatal care for our mothers."

HHS has received more than 7,000 comments for or against the proposal.

Supporters of the proposed rule say that states shouldn't be diverting money from a program to help the poor at a time of increased need. For every 100 Pennsylvania families living in poverty, the state provided cash assistance to just 25 in 2019-20, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive research group. In 1995-96, the state helped 87 of every 100 families.

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