Heidi Group founder and anti-abortion activist Carol Everett is battling the federal government over the future of federal family planning funding. In a lawsuit, she is asking for a guarantee that her new group will be eligible for Title X money during the next funding cycle—regardless of subsequent court rulings or the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Now a scathing response filed by the federal government argues that the suit has “no logical limit.”
Last year, Everett applied for millions of dollars in Title X funding for the Heidi Group—the same organization that, months before, lost multimillion-dollar contracts with the state of Texas for failing to serve tens of thousands of patients. Shortly after the application was denied, Everett started Vita Nuova, which she describes as a “Christian, pro-life organization that provides health-care services to women,” much like the Heidi Group. She then sued the federal government to ensure that even if different rules are in place, Vita Nuova could receive Title X money in spring 2021.
In a response filed earlier this month requesting a dismissal of the complaint, the federal government said that the case has “no less than three levels of speculation.” Government attorneys wrote that under Everett’s rationale, “anyone could challenge any past regulation that no longer exists, or even hypothetical future regulations that could be promulgated (but have not been), on the theory that they need certainty regarding how the world might look more than a year from now.”
Everett did not respond to a request for comment on the government’s most recent court filing or questions about Vita Nuova’s operations, including whether it has provided any reproductive health services. The case was filed with U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, who in late 2018 sided with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in his case to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Though Vita Nuova is suing over a hypothetical future scenario, Everett and the Trump administration actually favor the same funding restrictions. Last spring, the White House finalized new rules that exclude abortion providers or their affiliates from the Title X federal family planning program, following Texas’ example of favoring anti-abortion, religiously affiliated organizations like the Heidi Group over established family planning providers. Last week, the Trump administration backed Texas’ effort when it restored federal funding that the state lost by kicking Planned Parenthood out of its women’s health program.
Vita Nuova filed its lawsuit while Trump’s new regulations were tied up in court, arguing that it would be stymied under old rules because of the group’s opposition to abortion and “homosexual behavior.” A week later, an appeals court upheld an earlier ruling to allow the new Title X rules to go into effect as litigation continues, prompting Planned Parenthood and other providers to exit the program last summer and leading an estimated 900 family planning clinics nationwide to lose federal funding in the course of a few months.
But Everett argues in an affidavit that her group is still being harmed by the “uncertainty” of what will happen in the next year, which “hinders our fundraising efforts as well as our efforts to recruit doctors, nurses, and employees.” (The filing includes an affidavit from far-right anti-LGBTQ activist Steven Hotze, who says he would “give generously” to Vita Nuova if he knew it will be eligible for Title X in the future.) Everett writes that the group is “facing the very real prospect” that courts will block the new rules before it applies for federal funds. She adds: “Vita Nuova is also facing the prospect that the Democratic Party could win the Presidency in 2020.”
Everett also requests “assurance” that Vita Nuova “will not have to compete with Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion entities.” Only then “can Vita Nuova raise funds and build its organization without taking the risk that its efforts will be wasted,” she writes. Allowing these providers to participate in the program “makes it more difficult for organizations such as Vita Nuova to obtain Title X funds because it increases the number of potential recipients competing for the allotted money.”
Everett’s organization is part of a wave of religiously affiliated anti-abortion groups aiming to cash in after Trump reshaped the long-standing family planning program. Obria, a network of anti-abortion clinics that applied for funding in Texas alongside the Heidi Group last year, was awarded $1.7 million through Title X in California last spring, despite not offering contraception. Others like The Source and Stanton Healthcare are also reportedly mulling an application.
It’s a “troubling trend,” says Audrey Sandusky, communications director for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, which has pending litigation against Trump’s Title X changes. “The departure we are very concerned about is with the much less qualified organizations coming to the fore, claiming that they ought be funded by Title X, [which] millions of people count on, often as their sole health care provider.”
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