A new faith-based, anti-abortion health group in Texas is suing HHS for the right to receive federal family planning funds — another sign such groups are moving aggressively to win some of the backing that long went to organizations like Planned Parenthood.
The class action lawsuit filed on behalf of religious health care providers that oppose abortion argues that the newly-formed Vita Nuova Inc. and groups like it have the right to Title X grants under new Trump administration rules that are tied up in multiple court battles.
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Other anti-abortion groups and crisis pregnancy centers have been ramping up their efforts to obtain federal funding.
But Vita Nuova incorporated on July 2, just one day before filing the lawsuit, according to a filing with the Texas secretary of state. Its founding members are affiliated with the Heidi Group, a troubled crisis pregnancy center that lost millions of dollars in contracts with Texas after repeatedly failing to meet agreed-upon goals. The new group lacks a website and, according to the complaint, has yet to raise funds or build a network of providers. It’s not clear what medical services, if any, it plans to provide.
Most of the groups that participate in the $260 million a year Title X program are family planning clinics with an established client base or state health departments that distribute the funds to providers, which must stock the full range of contraception. The program serves more than 4 million mostly low-income, uninsured women seeking free or subsidized family planning services.
Attorneys representing Vita Nuova and the company’s executives did not respond to questions from POLITICO.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor, the George W. Bush appointee who recently struck down the entire Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional after a group of conservative-led states challenged the law. The Trump administration has yet to respond to the lawsuit and a date for the arguments has not yet been set.
All three listed founding members of Vita Nuova are affiliated with the Heidi Group, based north of Austin. Texas pulled its state family planning and women’s health contracts with the group late last year after determining it cared for just a fraction of the clients it has pledged to serve. A state investigation into the group’s misuse of taxpayer dollars is ongoing.
The Heidi Group unsuccessfully sought a Title X grant earlier this year, filing an application in conjunction with the Obria Group, a California-based nonprofit chain of anti-abortion health clinics. Obria got a separate Title X grant in California. The progressive watchdog group Campaign for Accountability reported in March that the Heidi Group made several false statements on its federal application with Obria and exaggerated the number of patients it served at the time.
The three employees listed on Vita Nuova’s business filing are Carol Everett, the Heidi Group’s founder; Rebecca Hobdy, who according to two former employees is Everett’s granddaughter, and Andrew Herrera, a Heidi Group employee.
“It’s the same old pig, just a different shade of lipstick,” said one of the former employees, who left in March and spoke on background for fear of retribution.
In May, Everett laid off about five of the Heidi Group’s employees, saying that she was closing the non-profit, and only kept four employees including her granddaughter, Herrera and members of his family, according to the two former employees.
But the Group’s Austin-area clinic continued to take appointments — according to its Facebook page.
Vita Nuova — “new life” in Latin — filed the suit at a time when the Trump administration’s overhaul of the Title X program was blocked by multiple federal district courts. Much of the complaint rests on HHS not enforcing part of the contested policy change banning Title X-funded clinics from making abortion referrals or from providing family planning services in the same offices where abortions are performed. The rules are have since taken effect while multiple legal challenges play out.
Vita Nuova argues it isn’t eligible for federal funding even under the new rules due to other federal policies, and is seeking extra accommodations.
“[HHS] requires all of its grant recipients to recognize same-sex marriage, and it provides no exemptions or accommodations for organizations (such as Vita Nuova) that oppose homosexual behavior for sincere religious reasons,” the lawsuit states.