Watchdog: AmeriCorps-funded group helped women getting abortions

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AmeriCorps, the massive public service program boasting 87,500 volunteers and a $728 million annual budget, is authorized to help with everything from disaster response services to foster care to affordable housing – but not with abortions.

Yet a new inspector general report found that one of the recipients of AmeriCorp grants -- the National Association of Community Health Centers -- allowed a few of its members to provide assistance including “doula care,”  or emotional support, to women getting abortions at three New York City clinics.

The women also were provided transportation to and from the clinics.

"First it's inappropriate. Second, it’s a violation of the law, and third, it's not what they're supposed to be doing," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. "How many others might be working outside of what is statutorily given to them to do?"

When AmeriCorps was expanded in 2009, Congress expressly prohibited money from being spent to "provid[e] abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services."

Yet, Tuesday's IG report said NACHC ignored that, adopting a narrower interpretation that prohibited only "a direct referral for abortion ... a name, address, telephone number, and other relevant factual information."

The IG report said NACHC continued the practice, even after a 2011 congressional hearing revealed that two other AmeriCorps grantees had violated abortion prohibitions -- and after its parent organization, the Corporation for National and Community Services, repeatedly warned grantees about the need for strict compliance.

In a written response on Wednesday, NACHC said, "We moved immediately to cease the activity in question, and suspended the identified site's AmeriCorps members for a period until they and their site supervisors were retrained."

Its parent organization, the Corporation for National and Community Services, acknowledged the limited scope of wrongdoing, but also took a stronger view. "The grantee broke the law and violated the spirit of national service," it said in a statement.

Blackburn called for a closer look.

"Let's do a deeper dive on this and make sure there is no misuse of federal money or of federal staff time," she told Fox News.

Democratic strategist David Mercer pointed out the NACHC reported the malfeasance as soon as managers became aware of it.

"I would say and hope that we don’t take this issue and politically exploit it," he told Fox News. "I think it is an isolated situation. Let's leave it at that. Deal with it. Self-correction.”