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July 29, 2019; Guardian

When the fox is guarding the henhouse, there may be doubt as to the accuracy of the information being conveyed to those seeking eggs. This seems to be the case with the federal grants intended to help poor women obtain contraceptives, which are now being used to sponsor a menstruation tracking app funded and operated by anti-birth control and anti-abortion groups.

The grants are now going to promote the Femm app. The app bills itself as a natural way for women to either avoid or achieve pregnancy by collecting intimate data, including details on menstruation, sex, mood, and prescription drug use.

The nonprofit Femm Foundation oversees the app. The foundation board opposes abortion and has not published any data on the effectiveness of the app as a contraceptive. Femm portrays itself as an education and health program and the term “contraception” does not appear in their basic explanation of their purpose.

Confused? The federal government seemed to think the program was worthy of $1.7 million per year in funding with up to $5.1 million over three years. The Obria Group, a network of “crisis pregnancy centers” in California, plans to use the Femm Foundation’s methods and its app as key components of Obria’s natural family planning program promoting “the value of abstinence.” This is how the Title X funds that provide low-income women with “effective medically…approved contraceptive services” are now being used.

Federal grants for family planning, part of the Title X program, are meant to be awarded “to offer a broad range of acceptable and effective medically [FDA] approved contraceptive methods and related services,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services. “Given the lack of evidence about its effectiveness and concerns about messages discouraging other family planning methods, the Femm app and program do not appear to be in line with a public health approach or goals,” said Andrea Swartzendruber, a public health researcher at the University of Georgia.

In general, natural family planning methods have a failure rate of up to 33 pregnancies per 100 women per year, according to the most recent data published in Obstetrics & Gynecology. While other fertility awareness-based methods are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, Femm is not. It is what the Guardian deemed “the first ideologically aligned menstruation tracking app.”

The other mystery in this is that the Femm Foundation claims it does not have a contract with Obria and receives no funds from them. But the reality is that it does not need a contract. Obria can just pick up services and certifications of the Femm Foundation online and pay as they go. A contract would only complicate this process. Birth control education (fertility awareness-based methods) becomes a part of a referral program offered through Femm “offered onsite or via telehealth at all Obria affiliate project clinics.”

The Obria Group also references its research arm, the Reproductive Health Research Institute (RHRI). RHRI, it turns out, is operated by an anti-abortion doctor in Santiago, Chile, who is not licensed to practice in the US. In addition, Femm is also listed in Obria’s application as part of their “basic infertility services.” There is no data as to how Femm’s processes impact infertility.

The purpose of Title X funding is stated as follows on the Health and Human Services website:

Title X of the Public Health Service Act (the Act) authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants to entities to provide family planning services to those desiring such services, with priority given to persons from low-income families.

The site then goes on to further list a range of options for family planning, and states that entities may choose to offer only one method (such as Femm) as long as other entities are providing others. This apparently gets Obria and Femm off the hook for entrapping their clients with a method that is not research-based and may not prevent pregnancy in one-in-three cases. In other words, many low-income women may find themselves left in a henhouse with more chicks than eggs.—Carole Levine