AmeriCorps, the federal public service program with more than 75,000 volunteers, is discontinuing its popular healthcare program after criticism about members providing emotional support to women seeking abortions. The Community HealthCorps program, run by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), promotes healthcare for America's underserved while helping to develop tomorrow's healthcare workforce. The program has trained 7,300 members in over 200 healthcare clinics across the country over its 21-year history.
The controversy arose because six AmeriCorps volunteers offered emotional support for women seeking abortions. Although the volunteers did not perform abortions, their actions were found to have broken federal law, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) agency’s Office of the Inspector General. Federal law states that AmeriCorps resources cannot “provid[e] abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services.”
The CNCS manages AmeriCorps and has an annual budget of $1.1 billion. It created its own restrictions, which prohibit “providing or promoting abortions” and “providing a direct referral for an abortion.” A direct referral would involve giving out the name, address and contact information for a clinic that provides abortions. But the CNCS guidelines do not specifically prohibit providing emotional support services.
Six volunteers in New York were the only ones found to have offered abortion-related services out of 1,600 that served the NACHC during the grant cycle, said Samantha Jo Warfield, a spokeswoman for CNCS.
As a result of the abortion controversy, the Community HealthCorps will shut down. The NACHC failed to receive its grant of $30 million, which it received for the past five years. The 400 actively-serving Community HealthCorps volunteers can finish their clinic assignments.
Republican lawmakers appear intent on finding organizations that receive public funding and have ties to abortion services, and AmeriCorps is its latest a target. Despite the ruckus the program created due to the abortion controversy, the closure of the Community HealthCorps program has been relatively discreet and with little media attention.
Community HealthCorps volunteers provide important services, including childhood obesity prevention, HIV/AIDS awareness and diabetes education, in areas where people lack access to necessary healthcare services. Volunteers raise awareness of potential health issues, ultimately preventing more costly and severe issues in the future.
Because Community HealthCorps benefits low-income people in underserved areas, some of the most vulnerable populations will be most severely impacted by the end of the Community HealthCorps. Singling out the actions of a few volunteers in what appear to be relatively isolated incidents doesn't look at the big picture. It is ultimately the health needs of the underserved that will suffer the most here, due simply to differing ideological views.
Image Credit: Steven Depolo, Flickr
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.