The Health and Human Services Department announced Friday that it is making $25 million available to states to support pregnant women and teen parents, in an initiative that the White House is framing as a way to find common ground on abortion.
The new federal Pregnancy Assistance Fund will award grants to states aimed at providing pregnant women and teen parents support for completing high school or college degrees and for getting health care, child care and housing, HHS said in a news release Friday.
The grants can also be used to combat violence against pregnant women, the release said.
In an e-mail announcing the initiative to nonprofit groups on Friday, the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at HHS tied the new fund to the abortion issue.
"It was only a year ago that President Obama gave a seminal speech at Notre Dame urging our nation to find common ground on the issue of abortion and unintended pregnancies," said the e-mail, which was obtained by CNN.
"The Pregnancy Assistance Fund is a competitive grant program established by the Affordable Care Act to assist women who have decided to carry their pregnancies to term and those who are parenting," the e-mail continued. "...This funding is another critical step in the President's vision for common ground."
HHS did not mention abortion in its Friday news release on the establishment of the fund, which was created by the health care bill that Obama signed in March.
"The opportunity created by the Affordable Care Act will provide States and Tribes needed assistance to support vulnerable teens and women who are pregnant and parenting," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the news release.
"The Pregnancy Assistance Fund provides States the opportunity to link these families to health, education, child care, and other supports that can help brighten the futures of parents and their children," she said.
Moderate religious groups hailed the measure as an important way for the White House to deliver on its goal of reducing the need for abortion, which Obama articulated last year in establishing the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
"Pro-life and pro-choice people have gotten behind it so it's a good first step at reducing abortion and providing support for healthier babes and mothers," said Kristen Day, executive director of the antiabortion group Democrats for Life of America. "Once we show how effective this is we can go back and expand this program."
Day, who has consulted with the White House on reproductive health issues, said the new fund also had political benefits for Democrats. "We've been working on common ground around abortion for a long time because we want to take it away as a wedge issue," she said.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America also indicated that it supported the measure.
But conservative anti-abortion groups greeted the announcement of the Pregnancy Assistance Fund more skeptically.
"This money is mandated for services for pregnant teens and women - violence prevention, vocational training," said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for CitizenLink, the public policy arm of the evangelical group Focus on the Family. "It would be inaccurate to characterize it as 'abortion common ground' since it doesn't specifically address abortion."
The new health care law appropriates $25 million for the Pregnancy Assistance Fund each year through 2019, according to HHS. The grants will be awarded competitively.
When Obama established the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in February 2009, the White House said that "it will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion."