What is Obria?
In 2014, the Obria Group, a California-based nonprofit organization affiliated with Obria Medical Clinics, (collectively “Obria”) began organizing a national network of pregnancy clinics that oppose abortion without exception. Obria – a religious ministry masquerading as a healthcare group – also refuses to provide contraceptive choices to its patients, including oral contraceptives, IUDs, or condoms. Instead, Obria offers only “fertility awareness,” a method to track ovulation to prevent pregnancy.
The anti-choice community has been positioning Obria as the national alternative to Planned Parenthood. In 2018, Obria applied for Title X funding, but the application was rejected because Obria did not comply with Title X rules requiring providers to offer hormonal birth control. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded $1.7 million in Title X funding to the Obria Group for the current year, with an additional $1.7 million for each of the grant’s subsequent two years.
Report: Trolling for Title X Funds
On May 13, 2019, CfA released a new report, Trolling for Title X Funds, which documents the growth and deception of Obria. CfA’s report provides a comprehensive history of Obria and reveals how the group has transformed from a single crisis pregnancy center in California to a national umbrella organization seeking to wrest Title X Funds away from legitimate healthcare providers.
Holding Obria Accountable
CfA has taken several steps to investigate the Trump administration’s relationship with Obria. On March 6, 2019, CfA filed two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits against HHS seeking records regarding the Trump Administration’s efforts to roll back Title X funding for comprehensive family planning services. CfA requested Obria’s applications for Title V and Title X funds, communications between HHS and Obria, and the calendars and communications for Diane Foley, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Population Affairs.
On March 21, 2019, CfA sent a letter to officials at HHS calling on the agency to review the error-riddled Title X application submitted by the Obria Group. The Houston Chronicle reported on March 18, 2019 that Obria organized a Title X grant application submitted in conjunction with the Heidi Group and two additional Texas-based medical clinics, Midland Community Healthcare Services, and the Community Wellness Clinic of Conroe. Reportedly, the application drastically overstates the number of patients served by the Heidi Group, identifies a long-departed employee as the Heidi Group’s top quality assurance officer, and fails to disclose the Heidi Group’s terminated state contracts.
On April 17, 2019, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the chairwomen of two subcommittees, sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar demanding documents regarding the agency’s decision to award $1.7 million in Title X family planning funds to Obria. The letter cites a New York Times article based largely on CfA’s investigation of Obria. The letter demands that HHS produce all communications between HHS officials and the Obria Group and demands that HHS release the Obria Group’s Title X applications.
On November 5, 2019, CfA sent three letters to Estée Lauder informing the company of an employee’s inappropriate use of the company’s name in her role as the board chair of Obria Medical Clinics of Southern California and requesting that the company discipline the employee accordingly. The employee, Vicki Smith, appears to have violated Estée Lauder’s employee handbook by publishing the company’s affiliation on Obria’s website and by using her Estée Lauder email account to communicate with government officials about Obria business.
On November 21, 2019, CfA released documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, shedding light on how officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services intervened to secure federal family planning funds, known as Title X funding, for Obria.
On December 17, 2019, CfA sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs, Dr. Diane Foley, asking HHS to end Title X funding for Obria. CfA obtained a redacted version of Obria’s approved 2019 Title X application through FOIA litigation, showing Obria may have deliberately provided inaccurate information in its 2019 application, and further showing Obria to be an inefficient administrator of Title X services.
On January 23, 2020, CfA released unredacted versions of Obria’s 2018 and 2019 Title X applications, obtained through successful FOIA litigation with HHS. Although initially produced with heavy redactions, CfA ultimately was able to review applications revealing an unusually high cost per patient, significant funds spent on the untested and unapproved fertility tracking mobile application, FEMM, and a substantial six-figure salary for a medical director with an apparently undisclosed and unrelated full-time job.
In The News
- Watchdog Group Wants HHS To Investigate Title X Awardee (Politico Pulse)
- Prominent anti-abortion chief warned of Muslims ‘replacing’ Christian Europeans (The Guardian)
- HHS Emails With Anti-Abortion Provider Fuel Fight Over Title X Rule (Inside Health Policy)
- The Anti Abortion ‘Replacement’ for Planned Parenthood Isn’t Doing Much—Except Gobbling Taxpayer Money (Jezebel)
- The Trump Administration Is Giving Family Planning Funds to a Network of Anti-Abortion Clinics (Mother Jones)
- Fake Clinics Are Not the Answer (The New York Times)
- Obria, the anti-abortion group that’s tapping into “wellness” culture, explained (Vox)
- Title X Is Funding Crisis Pregnancy Centers, While Planned Parenthood Is Forced To Withdraw (Bustle)
- It Just Got Harder to Get Birth Control in America (The New York Times)
- What It’s Like To Get Reproductive Care At An Anti-Abortion, Anti-Contraception Clinic (Pacific Standard)
- Anti-abortion group uses US federal grants to push controversial fertility app (The Guardian)
- New federally funded clinics emphasize abstinence, natural family planning (The Washington Post)
- Anti-Choice Clinic Network Sues Because It Has to Use Title X Funds for Abortion Referrals (Rewire.News)
- Faith-based clinics sue HHS over family planning program rules (Politico)
- Anti-Birth Control Group Reportedly Lied To Get Government Funding (Refinery29)
- Obria’s Abortion Fake-Out Is Working (Jezebel)
- An Anti-Choice Group Pledged It Would ‘Never’ Provide Contraception as It Pursued Title X Funds (Rewire.News)
- Campaign aims to halt funding to anti-contraception group (Politico Pulse)
- Google has given $150,000 in free ads to deceptive anti-abortion group (The Guardian)
- Anti-abortion clinics caught in tumult over Trump family planning rules (Politico)
- Trump Chooses No Choice (The New York Times)
- $5.1 Million in Federal Funding Will Really Help This Catholic Clinic Reach ‘Abortion-Vulnerable Women’ (Jezebel)
- Trump Administration Gives Family Planning Grant to Anti-Abortion Group (The New York Times)