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Troubled Texas Anti-Abortion Group Seeks Federal Grant Money

An anti-abortion group hired by Texas to bolster women's health services is seeking federal family planning funding after the state cancelled $6 million in troubled contracts with the evangelical nonprofit last year.

The Round Rock-based Heidi Group has applied with two other Texas health providers for tens of millions of dollars in grant funding under the federal Department of Health and Human Services' Title X program, the Houston Chronicle reported. The program makes family-planning services available to low-income individuals for free or at low cost.

The groups' collaborative funding application calls for the grant money to be managed by the Obria Group, a Catholic organization that's vying to become a national alternative to Planned Parenthood.

The group requested nearly $8 million annually for three years, and medical duties would be split among the three health providers to serve about 15,000 patients each year.

Obria has been denied Title X funding in the past because it doesn't support the use of condoms or other kinds of birth control.

If approved, the Obria Group could see a major expansion in the state with the country's highest rate of uninsured residents. There are roughly 1.8 million women in need of publicly-funded family planning services in Texas.

It would also help the Heidi Group re-surface after Texas health officials cut ties with the nonprofit last year.

The Heidi Group was hired in 2016 to help strengthen small clinics that specialize in women's health like Planned Parenthood but don't offer abortions. The intention was that the Heidi Group would help the clinics boost their patient rolls to show there wouldn't be a gap in services after Republican lawmakers cut off Planned Parenthood.

A 2017 investigation by The Associated Press found the anti-abortion nonprofit didn't even get close to serving 50,000 women, as promised.

Texas cancelled $6 million in contracts in October, and health officials said more than $1 million in billings are under investigation.

"We believe our involvement will significantly improve the availability and access to these important services," said the Heidi Group's founder Carol Everett in a letter submitted with the grant application.

Everett, who's an influential conservative activist in the Texas Legislature, declined to comment further.

Texas currently receives about $13 million a year from the Title X program, which is at the center of a lawsuit from two groups seeking to block a new rule from President Donald Trump's administration. The rule announced last month would prohibit family planning clinics funded by Title X from making abortion referrals.

Obria is competing for funding with the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, which served 195,000 patients last year. The state Health and Human Services Commission has also requested $16 million in federal family planning funding to serve 53,000 patients.

Grant decisions are expected soon. The program's next fiscal year begins April 1.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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