November 21, 2019 Press Releases, Themis Project

CfA Releases Documents Showing How Trump Admin Pulled Strings To Award Grant to Anti-Birth Control Group, Obria

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 21, 2019

Contact: Bryan Dewan, bdewan@campaignforaccountability.org, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, released new documents shedding light on how officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) intervened to secure federal family planning funds, known as Title X funding, for Obria, an anti-abortion and anti-birth control group based in California.

Click here to view the documents.

CfA Counsel Alice Huling said, “These emails show top Trump appointees cultivated a close relationship with Obria and helped smooth its path to receive Title X federal funding, even though Obria does not offer birth control as Title X requires.”

Obria is a national network of anti-abortion, anti-birth control centers that operates as the Obria Group, Obria Medical Clinics of Southern California, and several others. In March 2019, Obria received a $1.7 million grant from the Trump administration to provide family planning services through its affiliates and is set to receive an additional $3.4 million over the next two years.

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit detail how Obria leaned on its connections to Trump-appointed officials at HHS to secure federal funding. For instance, Obria was introduced to a top official at HHS by David Mansdoerfer, who was at the time an employee in the Department’s Office of White House Liaison. Mr. Mansdoerfer introduced Clare Venegas, President of Obria Medical Clinics, to Steven Valentine, then Associate Director for Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health.

The documents further reveal how HHS collaborated with Obria officials to help the group secure grant money. Following Mr. Mansdoerfer’s introduction, Ms. Venegas and Mr. Valentine discussed Obria’s work as well as potential HHS grants for the organization. Ms. Venegas did not mention contraception services in her description of the services provided by Obria, nor did she identify family planning as an area of federal funding for which Obria might qualify. Ms. Venegas did highlight, however, that Obria is the largest provider of “abortion pill reversal” in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, a controversial procedure lacking scientific support.

Additional documents indicate that Obria specifically learned of the Title X family planning program from a Breitbart article. On March 2, 2018, Ms. Venegas forwarded a Breitbart article to Mr. Valentine that reported on the Trump administration’s plan to award family planning funds to “grantees that do not perform abortions.” Ms. Venegas wrote in the email that,“[t]his grant opportunity seems right up our alley,” but noted the grant application would “take quite a bit of time/investment to complete,” and asked Mr. Valentine for his “insights” on the Title X program, and whether Obria had a “good shot” at receiving a grant.

Ms. Venegas then consulted with Mr. Valentine about Obria’s Title X grant application. Additionally, Mr. Valentine forwarded some of these email communications to Valerie Huber, then Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of HHS Office of Population Affairs, who was empowered to make the final decision regarding Title X grantees at that time.

When Obria’s Title X application was eventually approved, Diane Foley, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs, emailed Obria’s founder and CEO, Kathleen Eaton Bravo, to congratulate her on the grant award and set up a phone call to discuss Obria’s successful application. On April 4, 2019, Berni Neal, the chair of Obria’s advisory board, emailed Dr. Foley to schedule a call later in the day that also included Ms. Eaton Bravo, and several other Obria employees and board members.

Ms. Huling continued, “These documents reveal that ideologues at HHS circumvented Department norms to deliver taxpayer funding to an organization that prides itself on refusing to offer the exact service for which Congress appropriated funding: birth control for low income Americans.”

Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.