States across the nation are funneling taxpayer money intended for low-income families to a dangerous and harmful anti-abortion movement. 

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are anti-abortion organizations that seek to prevent people and communities from accessing reproductive health services, including abortion and contraception. They use deceptive and coercive tactics and medical disinformation, and misleadingly present themselves as medical facilities. The CPC industry is rapidly expanding while evading public accountability, despite increasing reliance on public funds. 

At least ten states have diverted funds provided by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program into CPCs. Had they not been used for CPCs, these funds could have been used to assist families in need through effective programs like cash assistance that have been proven to improve child poverty and health outcomes.

Groups urge the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide guidelines to ensure that taxpayer dollars for families in need serve their intended purpose and are not misused.

In October of 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced a notice of proposed rulemaking to strengthen the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) regulations, including “creating additional accountability for states to ensure TANF funds serve their intended purpose, while maintaining state flexibility.” 

On December 1, 2023, we submitted a comment on the TANF notice of proposed rulemaking on behalf of Women’s Law Project, California Women’s Law Center, Gender Justice, Legal Voice, and Southwest Women’s Law Center encouraging the Department to finalize the proposed rule promptly and to clarify in the final rule that CPCs do not further any of TANF’s goals.

The comment details how CPCs target pregnant people to discourage abortion care, how CPCs receive public funds but remain largely unaccountable, and that funding CPCs through the TANF program is not “reasonably calculated” to accomplish any TANF purpose. 

CPCs target pregnant people seeking abortion care. Often, young people and those with limited means are lured to CPCs. And CPC have also targeted Black women, who are disproportionately likely to face barriers to medical care and pregnancy resources. They do this by masquerading as healthcare clinics, providing false and misleading information about abortion care to those who seek out their services, and employing ultrasound technology, among other tactics.

Oversight of CPCs that receive state funding is scant or nonexistent. Some states, such as North Dakota and Oklahoma, include the vague requirement that CPC providers must operate programs that are “outcome-based with positive results.” Florida’s oversight entails conducting “desk reviews” without clear timelines or evaluation criteria. Given the lack of public oversight, private organizations have led investigations of CPCs, which reveal misuse, waste, and potential skimming of funds.

Under the Proposed Rule, HHS may ask a state for evidence that a TANF program expenditure is “reasonably calculated to accomplish a TANF purpose.” The TANF program has four statutory purposes, and, as highlighted in our comment, evidence shows that CPCs do not further any of them: (1) to assist needy families so children can remain at home or with relatives; (2) to end dependency by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) to prevent and reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and (4) to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.