SOS for Pregnancy Centers

A proposed HHS rule would effectively ban federal TANF grants to pregnancy centers

If you are reading this on Friday, December 1, you have until midnight to act on a pro-life matter.

On October 2, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a proposed rule to change regulations on what can be funded under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program. The proposed rule discriminates against pro-life pregnancy centers.

TANF is a partnership with states. Some states allow pro-life or crisis pregnancy centers to participate in TANF grants. The HHS rule would effectively ban that.

The fig leaf HHS is using is that the task Congress gave TANF was to “prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.” HHS wants to rewrite regulations to say that crisis pregnancy centers do not facilitate that goal and, therefore, those states that currently permit their participation in grantmaking should be excluded.

TANF was enacted in 1997. This proposed rule is a highly selective reading of intent. We are being asked to believe that no one noticed for 26 years the supposed radical dissonance between how TANF was being administered and its enabling legislation until the pro-abortion ideologues of the current HHS noticed.

Congress has repeatedly excluded abortion as a means of “family planning,” i.e., even when Congress funds “birth control,” it does not consider abortion a means of “birth control.” (It is even more ludicrous to pretend abortion is somehow “contraceptive,” inasmuch as conception has to have occurred for one to be eligible for an abortion).

The fact that Congress has kept the Hyde Amendment in place for almost fifty years likewise makes clear that it does not seek to promote abortion as a means of “birth control” (even if there might be those who want to permit abortion). There is a difference between a policy which “permits” something versus one that affirmatively “promotes” it. The proposed HHS rule collapses that distinction.

When TANF was being debated under the Clinton Administration, there were those who, in the name of “reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies” proposed subsidizing abortion as a “reducing” incentive. There was significant outcry at the time, with people recognizing that there was a difference between “ending welfare as we know it” (which was taken to be encouraging out-of-wedlock pregnancies) versus paying women to get abortions. That conflation never went anywhere… until this rule revives it.

Let’s be honest about what’s really behind this rule. Various Democrats have led campaigns to persecute pro-life pregnancy centers. Despite the David and Goliath contrast between the government funds Planned Parenthood gets to promote abortion and the grant money some pregnancy centers sometimes obtain to support their work, pro-abortionists fight pregnancy centers tooth and nail.

Current HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, when he was California Attorney General, went all the way to the United States Supreme Court defending an unconstitutional California law that tried to force pro-life pregnancy centers to provide referrals to abortion providers. Those centers sued, saying such referrals would constitute government-compelled, forced speech. Becerra lost.

Subsequently, Washington Democrats have led multiple campaigns to claim pro-life pregnancy centers promote “disinformation” because they do not offer abortion services, only diapers and other items an indigent woman who chooses to carry her pregnancy to term needs. A number of senators, led by New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, have tried to get the Federal Trade Commission to brand pregnancy centers as engaging in “deceptive” advertising and thus put them out of business. (See their bill, S. 1231, here).

While Democrats oppose pregnancy centers, they trip over each other to hand cash to Planned Parenthood, as Tammy Murphy did in her announcement she was running for Menendez’s seat in 2024. She defended the blank checks her husband, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, has given Planned Parenthood from the cash-strapped New Jersey treasury.

Pro-abortionists insist abortion is a matter of “choice” but, recognizing the practical relationship between what one can pay for and what one can choose, do everything they can to cash-starve pregnancy centers, as the proposed TANF rule does.

This effort is purely ideological: it is intended to cement the pro-abortion mantra that abortion is “health care,” although in almost every case it cures no pathology and is definitely not in the health interests of the unborn child.

In the wake of Dobbs, when abortion extremists unleashed terrorist attacks on a variety of pregnancy centers using arson, the Department of Justice’s investigatory and arrest record moved, to put it charitably, “with all deliberate speed.”

So, let’s admit that this proposed rule has nothing to do with aligning grantmaking under TANF (which is also intended to support indigent persons in need, which should include unwed mothers) and everything to do with an ideological predilection that the federal government should do everything it can to increase the number of abortions.

You can find the form to comment on this rule here. Feel free to use material in this article or even cut/paste. Additional talking points are here. You have until midnight, Friday to Saturday.

Now, some related comments:

I learned of this rule on November 30 from an old friend who sent me a message. The rule was promulgated under usual federal norms, i.e., 60 days of public comment, starting October 2, 2023. I was told of it on Day 59. I googled “TANF prolife” on the webpage of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). I got nine results, the newest of which was from 2020. Most of the results were from 2004 and 2012, when TANF block grantmaking was up for renewal.

News of this kind of proposal should not be coming through an informal network of a few pro-life activists at the tail end of the rulemaking period. The Bishops’ Pro-Life Office should have been blasting this information LOUD AND CLEAR to every parish on October 3. They issued a statement [here] on “radical solidarity” with pregnancy centers on November 9… and mentioned nothing of this rule!

What does the USCCB do besides collect money, arrange an annual November junket week for bishops in Baltimore (what a prize destination!)  and wring its collective hands when they’re not folded in prayer or signing decrees to shuffle off the next abusive priest?

The USCCB should have been making noise about this rule eight Sundays ago.

This is far more important than the useless and ethereal “conversations in the Spirit” about which we have been babbling these eight weeks, wasting two years of the faithful’s time, money, and energy to achieve nothing but confusion.

Earlier this week, I described [here] how the Catholic Church in the United States blew a possible opportunity to have redefined the abortion debate in the immediate aftermath of Roe back in 1973. Pro-abortionists have spent half a century with their eyes singlemindedly fixed on the prize. The U.S. bishops have spent those fifty years denying their need to visit a political optometrist, and the pro-life cause has suffered accordingly. Let’s be honest: Roe is dead despite the bishops, not because of them.

If pregnancy centers suffer discrimination in federal funding – after so many bishops have hyperventilated about “seamless garments” and “making prolife activity practical, one pregnancy at a time” – please tell their eminences to hold the hypocrisy and the bad theologico-political “pastoral” advice.


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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