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Six AmeriCorps volunteers illegally helped women seeking abortions: report

Several members of the federal volunteer group AmeriCorps illegally provided emotional support to women seeking abortion services, according to a new report.
Hundreds of new AmeriCorps volunteers are sworn in for duty at a ceremony, Sept. 12, 2014, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Hundreds of new AmeriCorps volunteers are sworn in for duty at a ceremony, Sept. 12, 2014, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.

Six members of the federal volunteer group AmeriCorps illegally assisted women seeking abortions, according to a report summary released Tuesday by the Corporation for National and Community Service agency's Office of the Inspector General.

The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) — a grantee of the independent federal agency Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) — wrongfully permitted the AmeriCorps volunteers in 2013 through 2015 to provide emotional support to women seeking abortion services in three New York City clinics run by the Institute for Family Health. NACHC is one of the agency's largest grantee's, receiving $30 million within the past five years. Specifically, the summary said the health center network violated a federal law that states AmeriCorps resources cannot “provid[e] abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services.”

“We are deeply disappointed that the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) authorized national service participants to perform prohibited activities," said CNCS Spokesperson Samantha Jo Warfield in a statement released Monday. "Although the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) investigation concluded the misconduct occurred on an extremely limited scope, the grantee broke the law and violated the spirit of national service."

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Warfield added that the agency makes its prohibited activities policy "overwhelmingly clear" to grantees. AmeriCorps has about 80,000 volunteers in the United States. CNCS, which manages AmeriCorps, also has an annual budget of $1.1 billion.  

Only one out of the 34 NACHC locations violated the law and only six of the 1,600 members serving the grantee were involved with the violations during its current grant cycle, the federal agency stated. Consequently, the agency said it has suspended the health center network's capability to enroll new national service members under its grant. An independent oversight monitor will also overlook the group's grant compliance.

Overall, the blame for the violation has continued fall on the grantee's shoulders. The Institute for Family Health, where the volunteers assisted patients seeking abortion services, sent a statement to MSNBC Tuesday saying the organization is aware of the investigation, has completely reviewed the findings, and that it denies any violations. "The Institute for Family Health adheres to all regulations and guidelines issued by our funders, as we have always done," the health center organization added.

The IFH did not respond immediately to questions about whether or not the organization was aware of the federal violations while they occurred at its clinics from 2013 to 2015.

This scrutiny of AmeriCorps and its reported involvement with abortion services comes after the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives held a hearing Wednesday to examine if abortion providers broke the law by selling donated fetal tissue. The committee's creation was prompted by a series of secretly recorded videos released last summer, in which David Daleiden, an anti-abortion activist, posed as a purchaser of fetal tissue for medical research while chatting with abortion providers. The videos also inspired bills in Congress calling for the removal of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which ultimately failed.