Stephanie Kirchgaessner, The Guardian, December 11, 2019
The chief executive of Obria, an anti-choice and anti-contraception organisation that has been awarded millions of dollars in grants by the Trump administration, once said that Christianity was dying out thanks to contraception and abortion, leading Europeans to be “replaced” by immigrant Muslims.
The reported remarks by Kathleen Eaton Bravo, the founder and chief executive officer of the Obria Group, raise new questions about the Trump administration’s controversial decision to award millions of dollars in health and human services grants to the group, which runs a national network of health centers opposed to abortion and contraception.
Bravo’s remarks, which were published in a 2015 interview with the Catholic World Report, shows how xenophobic fears about immigrants from African and Middle Eastern countries “replacing” white Christian populations have influenced anti-choice campaigners in the US.
In the interview, Bravo was asked whether abortion was getting the attention it deserved. She said it was not, because abortion had become a political rather than a moral issue.
“Few realize that it has had a devastating impact on our society, and threatens our culture’s survival. Take the example of Europe. When its nations accepted contraception and abortion, they stopped replacing their population. Christianity began to die out. And, with Europeans having no children, immigrant Muslims came in to replace them, and now the culture of Europe is changing,” she said.
The idea that white people are being “replaced” by non-whites and non-Christians has long been a fallacy propagated by white supremacists. The chants “you will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us” were used by white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017 and were part of the racist ideology espoused by mass shooters in El Paso and New Zealand.
Bravo also said in the interview that the US was bound to follow in Europe’s footsteps.
“In only two of the past 40 years have we replaced our population. We’re on the same track as Europe. The church and family are in crisis,” she said.
The Guardian attempted to reach Bravo for comment but she did not return a detailed message left for her at her office, or an email message sent through the group’s website.
The Obria chief has emerged as a force in the conservative and Catholic anti-choice movement that has sought to siphon public funds away from healthcare clinics like Planned Parenthood, which provide reproductive care and abortion services.
Obria received a $1.7m grant from the Trump administration in March 2019 and is due to receive an additional $3.4m over the next two years. The designation is controversial because such federal family planning funds – known as title X funding – was until recently only offered to groups that offered women access to contraception and referrals and counseling for abortion services.
Clinics were already barred from using title X money to directly provide abortions, but new restrictions imposed by the Trump administration have made it illegal for staff at health clinics that receive federal funds – which mostly help poor women – from referring patients to other facilities where they can terminate their pregnancies.
Planned Parenthood, which has for years been vilified by anti-choice campaigners, previously operated about 40% of the clinics that serve poor women, and received about $60m in family planning funds from the federal government annually. It left the title X program this year, however, after the new Trump administration restrictions on counseling and referrals went into effect. Planned Parenthood said at the time that the move would lead to suffering for its patients, and that the gag rule was both unethical and illegal.
Bravo was highly critical of Planned Parenthood in the 2015 interview, suggesting that the group promoted a “hook-up” culture and “oral sex, anal sex, and S&M sex”.
An investigation by the Campaign for Accountability, a not-for-profit watchdog group, found that Obria’s quest to win grant money from HHS was supported by political appointees at the department, including Diane Foley, who is in charge of title X funding. Foley congratulated Bravo in an email after Obria won its 2019 grant, and invited Bravo to have a private call with her to discuss the funding.
HHS did not return a request for comment about Bravo’s remarks.
Alice Huling, CFA’s counsel, told the Guardian that HHS has said that changes to its title X program were designed to diversify its grant applications. But Huling said that in reality, the change has given groups like Obria, which do not provide contraception or abortion-related services, access to federal funds for the first time, possibly opening the “floodgates” for similar organizations to win grants that would otherwise have gone to organizations that do provide such services.
The Guardian reported earlier this year that Obria has also received $150,000 in free advertising from Google, even though the group has run deceptive ads that suggest its clinics provide abortion services. The ads are designed to attract “abortion-minded women” to the clinics, even though they cannot obtain abortion services.
Google changed its advertising policy in the wake of the Guardian’s report, and has started publishing information under some of its ads that state whether the clinics do or do not provide termination services.