The Biggest Ob-Gyn Group Donates a Lot to Anti-Abortion Politicians

A new analysis shows that the U.S.’s largest professional organization of ob-gyns has spent a considerable amount of money in the last decade helping anti-abortion legislators get elected to Congress. From 2012 to 2022, of the 294 federal legislators who received campaign donations via the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) political action committee, 39.5% have actively worked to constrain abortion access in the country. Of those donation recipients, 70 explicitly opposed Roe v. Wade.

These data, published Apr. 28 as a research letter in JAMA Network Open, are surprising in the context of ACOG’s stated support of abortion rights and access, says lead author Dr. Benjamin Brown, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University’s medical school. ACOG’s website says that abortion “is essential for people’s health, safety, and well-being.”
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“ACOG consistently states that abortion is essential health care in its clinical guidance and public statements,” Brown says, but “the fact that ACOG has spent over $1.25 million on anti-abortion legislators in the last decade suggests that ACOG’s political donations may be undermining its stated commitment to abortion access and patient autonomy.”

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In an email to TIME, ACOG said that “there is indeed a tension to balancing the many policy priorities of a membership organization that is dedicated to the many facets of medical care. To help balance the various priorities of ACOG, Ob-GynPAC”—the group’s political action committee—“considers many factors when evaluating candidates such as voting history on ACOG priority issues, including maternal mortality, reproductive health care, sustainability of practice, and access to care.”

The $1.25 million sum accounts for nearly 38% of ACOG’s total donations in the decade leading up to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Brown found. That this share is so large may reflect some of the ways in which the sharp political disagreements surrounding abortion access presumably cause division even within the ranks of the industry’s leading medical group.

Much of ACOG’s non-financial advocacy work, such as briefs filed in various abortion-related court cases, do align with the group’s stated policy priorities, which include that “politicians must never interfere in the patient-physician relationship or impose unjustified restrictions on medical practices.” In legal challenges against abortion, ACOG has long played a “critical role,” says Brown, and “it’s because ACOG has this critical role that it’s also essential that ACOG’s political donations work in concert with its other advocacy.”

“Ob-GynPAC’s funding formula is not fully transparent,” says Brown, which makes it hard to track why the money was funneled to specific politicians. But stances beyond abortion—like those that affect maternal health, patient coverage, and all other women’s health issues—are also important to ACOG’s members, and may play large roles in their funding decisions, he says. However, with abortion access especially imperiled, Brown says, “supporting anti-abortion access legislators has real potential to harm patients” and is nearly impossible to do without contradicting ACOG’s key goals.

In order to best serve patients and prioritize their needs, Brown would like to see ACOG and other organizations begin to make their funding formulas public. “I hope that these data spark a renewed conversation about how ACOG apportions its resources,” he says.

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Contributor: Haley Weiss