(VIDEO) Uganda: Signs of Eroding Support for Anti-Gay Bill?

Amie Newman

Will strong financial ties to the U.S. be enough to have Museveni stop the anti-gay bill? Or is the "historic religious revival" underway in Uganda enough to power this homosexual hatred to its ultimate extreme?

UPDATE: January 13th, 9:28 am: Uganda’s newspaper New Vision reports that Museveni has made concerns about the foreign policy and foreign assistance impact known to members of his party. See the story here.

 

It’s being reported that, at the urging of U.S. government
officials, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will block the anti-gay bill introduced in October in the Ugandan Parliament. It is also reported that the majority of Ugandans supports the bill. The controversy over the bill, however, continues to bubble unrelentingly. Will strong financial ties to the U.S. influence Museveni’s actions? Or is the “historic religious revival” (as Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” calls it) underway in Uganda enough to power this homosexual hatred to its ultimate extreme?

Homosexual sex is already criminalized in Uganda. But the proposed legislation would impose
either the death penalty or life imprisonment for those "outed" as
homosexual (with prison sentences for those who knowingly protect gay Ugandans).
Ugandan legislator David Bahati, who is significant in this story in more ways
than one, drafted the bill. Not only is he behind the hateful bill, he
maintains strong ties to high-ranking U.S. political and evangelical religious leaders
and corporate executives through his membership in the clandestine organization
"The Family" an
international organization based in Washington DC and considered one of the
most politically well-connected fundamentalist groups in the U.S.

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In fact, some report that the idea
for the bill was initially introduced by Bahati at a prayer breakfast in
Washington DC, a regular event hosted by “The Family.” Jeff Sharlet, notes that the idea was
met by “disapproval” from members of The Family and, Sharlet writes, none of
the American members of The Family “seem to support” the bill, including Bob
Hunter, the member of The Family responsible for building the relationship
between the group and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and who has since come
out
in vocal opposition to the bill. But other Family members, Sharlet
writes, such as Senator
James Inhofe, Senator Chuck Grassley, Rep. Joe Pitts, and Senator Tom Coburn
condemned the bill only after a concerted campaign of public and private
pressure.”

Connections between U.S. religious leaders and African
church leaders have been a focus of renewed
investigation
over the last few months because of the especially vicious
nature of the Ugandan bill and the support its engendered amongst Christian
religious leaders in that country. Pastor Rick Warren, leader of the Saddleback
Church and a vocal voice in U.S. global HIV/AIDS policy (PEPFAR) considers the
homophobic Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa a friend and the two are currently
engaged in a heated public discussion over the nature of the bill. Last month,
after weeks of speculation regarding his involvement and some finger-pointing
that he was actually behind the Ugandan anti-gay legislation, Pastor Warren released
a video statement
directed towards Ugandan pastors in which he voiced his
opposition to the “Un-Christian”-like nature of the bill and urged his fellow
religious leaders to do the same. Though Warren makes clear in the video that
he strongly opposes the passage of this bill, he simultaneously includes his
homophobic convictions as if offering such a “spoonful of sugar” to Ugandan
pastors will help them imbibe a message they do not seem likely or willing to
accept.

In response, Pastor Ssempa, who has a long history of
anti-gay activism and fundamentalist evangelism, angrily argues in favor of the
law in
this letter
. Pastors in Uganda, says Ssempa in the video below, formed an
interfaith task force – The Uganda National Pastors Task Force – to “fight the
evil of homosexuality.” Ssempa goes on to advocate for the law based on a
clause within the legislation that criminalizes the rape of a minor.
Inexplicably, there are no reasons given for why the criminalization of rape
needs to be inserted into a bill that seeks to legalize government sanctioned
murder of homosexuals.

But perhaps the most in-depth report to uncover the
relationships between U.S. evangelical political and religious leaders and
African churches is the recent Political Research Associates’ report Globalizing the
Culture Wars
. Written by Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian priest who went
undercover in Uganda for six months, the report reveals just how multi-layered
U.S. fundamentalist influence is upon the African religious leaders who lead
the homophobic charge.

One example of this tightly woven web, as I reported
last month from the excellent blog Truth Wins Out (and
which The
New York Times just recently picked up) was the participation of Scott
Lively, Don Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundridge, three vehemently anti- and
ex-gay activists from the U.S., in a stoking-of-the-homophobic-fires conference
in Uganda in March 2009. Lively is
a missionary known for his screed, “The Pink Swastika” which claims that the
Nazis were really homosexuals getting back at Jews for Judaism’s prohibition on
homosexuality. He is also the
writer of “7 Steps to
Recruit-Proof Your Child.” But it’s Schmierer who now claims that he was
“duped” into attending the anti-gay conference under the auspices of talking
about “parenting skills for families with gay children.” The blog Box Turtle Bulletin (BTB) easily dispels
his claims, however, by producing evidence of his
knowledge in the form of emails sent, prior to the conference, by BCB’s Timothy
Kincaid to Exodus, International’s president Alan Chambers (on the board of
which Schmierer is a current member). The emails were sent to ensure that
Exodus, Chambers and Schmierer were keenly aware of the “character and history of those participating at the Uganda anti-gay conference.” As BCB writes of the
exchange:

“Alan’s response was off the record. But because he
responded we know he received our email and was therefore aware of the
list of presenters and of our concerns.

So on Monday we asked him to let us know if he and the
Exodus leadership would develop a position on Don Schmierer’s activities in
Uganda.

Since that time, conference speaker Scott Lively has endorsed the criminalization of gay persons and declared that the Ugandan government should “subject the criminals of homosexuality to a therapy.

To date, we’ve not heard back from Alan as to whether he,
Schmierer, and the rest of the Exodus leadership denounce the theme of
Schmierer’s conference or if they too endorse criminalization of homosexuality
and forced ex-gay therapy. Until we hear otherwise, we must assume that their
silence is an indication that their board
member is representing them in Uganda and that they endorse the positions taken
by the conference
." [Emphasis mine]

It’s hard to take Don Schmierer’s claims of being tricked
seriously then. And of Scott Lively’s protests that he had nothing to do with the particularly vicious nature of the bill? As Professor Warren Thockmorton writes
on his blog:

 

When you tell an audience that gays caused World War II and assorted
other atrocities (e.g., Columbine, Rwanda, etc.), you should not be surprised
when the audience becomes hostile. It is like yelling fire in a theatre and
wondering why people get trampled in the rush. It is called “inciting
a riot.

 

Despite the obvious violent, homophobic rhetoric put forth
by these three anti-gay activists as well as the scores of religious extremists
funded
by the U.S. in Africa, there are other forces at play as well. In 2003,
President Bush created PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief)
and pledged billions
to 15 African countries to help prevent the spread of HIV and treat AIDS-related
illnesses.   The original
PEPFAR law required that one-third of all funding for prevention of HIV
transmission be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programs.  In Uganda, two-thirds of all funds for
prevention were spent on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, large amounts
of funding went to fundamentalist faith-based groups that rejected
evidence-based prevention programming, and safer sex practices, including
condom use, were stigmatized.

This imposition of Christian right principles upon public
health policy was only too welcome by President Museveni and his born-again
Christian wife Janet Museveni who equated condom
use with murder
. Oddly and tellingly, Museveni went from praising
condoms as a means to “saving his people” from HIV infection in the nineties to
attacking “those who want to condomise the world” after Uganda was promised
huge amounts of funding under PEPFAR. And Pastor Ssempa was right there with
them loudly proclaiming that condoms are a “ticket to death.”

What, then, should the United States do to address the bill
as the Ugandan Parliament is on the cusp of reconvening?

President Obama released
a statement condemning the Ugandan bill saying he “opposes” the bill as it
moves “against the tide of history” while the State Department declared “We
condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity
wherever they occur…If adopted a bill further
criminalizing homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for
the protection of human rights in Uganda." The Human
Rights Campaign is urging
the United States to exert leadership through Congressional action in the form
of letters to President Obama and President Museveni.

Some are suggesting that the United States should cut
PEPFAR funding to Uganda as a way of punishing the government for this proposed
law. It is true that the U.S. government is the largest donor of HIV and AIDS
funding in the world. Withholding funds from Uganda may make a statement but we
are also responsible for addressing the underlying, destructive homophobia that
has been cultivated for many years on Ugandan soil, with the help and guidance of U.S. evangelicals as well as the
United States government. PEPFAR funds, initially under the direction of
President George W. Bush, have been distributed directly to the Ugandan
government to use as the government sees fit with very little accountability
for where the money goes. The U.S. has continued to fund Uganda as the country
has perpetuated homophobia in its legislation for years. Therefore US funding
is in part responsible, one could say, for the growing anti-gay sentiment
throughout Uganda. It is difficult to imagine, in fact, given what a large role
U.S. funding has played thus far in Uganda’s public health response to HIV and
AIDS, how we did not see this coming and why we are surprised by the bill’s extremist
response to homosexuality.
Withholding funds might allow us leverage in which to not only encourage
the Ugandan Parliament to vote against this bill in specific but to examine its
human rights principles overall.

It seems that those fighting against this bill,
internationally, should really be pushing for an overhaul of PEPFAR over the
long term, not just a temporary cut to Uganda’s PEPFAR funding. Public health
plans not only involve health solutions but attitudinal and social change
solutions as well. If the United States was to alter PEPFAR so that some funds
to Uganda actually were spent to promote social change strategies that helped
address homophobia and discrimination we might see progress. As it stands, HIV
and AIDS funds from our country are not only not addressing the underlying public health issues that contribute
to homophobia: discrimination and fear, but the funds are being directed
towards ideologically-based organizations in Uganda that are feeding the issues that seed bills like
this one.

Given the international outcry
the proposition of this bill has incited, for months now, it seems likely that this
bill will not be signed into law in its current incarnation. There is, however,
still a law on the books in Uganda that criminalizes sex between same-sex
partners. There is still a firm relationship between Ugandan Anglican church
leaders, Uganda’s political leaders and U.S. evangelicals with a lot of money
and a strong fundamentalist Christian zeal to “wipe out” homosexuality. There
still is HIV prevention funding, traveling through our federal government for
Uganda and other African nations, tied to Christian right theology rather than
public health evidence. “The Family” is still hard at work weaving together
like-minded evangelicals internationally. And there are still gay Ugandans
struggling to attain even the most basic of human rights – to be recognized as human beings.

Advocates of all shapes and sizes, around the world,
continue to stand up as long as there are those so blatantly in harms way. As
the Gay Ugandan writes
in his most recent post – a call-out to those who are fighting for him – and
all gay and lesbian Ugandans, in other countries:

“I am Ugandan. I
love the country. The people are my people. But, they have crossed the line
when in stupidity they try to kill me. Sorry, I am also a human being. Just
like they are.”

 

Analysis Human Rights

El Salvador Bill Would Put Those Found Guilty of Abortion Behind Bars for 30 to 50 Years

Kathy Bougher

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador since 1997, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison. Now, the right-wing ARENA Party has introduced a bill that would increase that penalty to a prison sentence of 30 to 50 years—the same as aggravated homicide.

The bill also lengthens the prison time for physicians who perform abortions to 30 to 50 years and establishes jail terms—of one to three years and six months to two years, respectively—for persons who sell or publicize abortion-causing substances.

The bill’s major sponsor, Rep. Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, explained in a television interview on July 11 that this was simply an administrative matter and “shouldn’t need any further discussion.”

Since the Salvadoran Constitution recognizes “the human being from the moment of conception,” he said, it “is necessary to align the Criminal Code with this principle, and substitute the current penalty for abortion, which is two to eight years in prison, with that of aggravated homicide.”

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The bill has yet to be discussed in the Salvadoran legislature; if it were to pass, it would still have to go to the president for his signature. It could also be referred to committee, and potentially left to die.

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would worsen the criminalization of women, continue to take away options, and heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

In recent years, local feminist groups have drawn attention to “Las 17 and More,” a group of Salvadoran women who have been incarcerated with prison terms of up to 40 years after obstetrical emergencies. In 2014, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) submitted requests for pardons for 17 of the women. Each case wound its way through the legislature and other branches of government; in the end, only one woman received a pardon. Earlier this year, however, a May 2016 court decision overturned the conviction of another one of the women, Maria Teresa Rivera, vacating her 40-year sentence.

Velásquez Parker noted in his July 11 interview that he had not reviewed any of those cases. To do so was not “within his purview” and those cases have been “subjective and philosophical,” he claimed. “I am dealing with Salvadoran constitutional law.”

During a protest outside of the legislature last Thursday, Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, addressed Velásquez Parker directly, saying that his bill demonstrated an ignorance of the realities faced by women and girls in El Salvador and demanding its revocation.

“How is it possible that you do not know that last week the United Nations presented a report that shows that in our country a girl or an adolescent gives birth every 20 minutes? You should be obligated to know this. You get paid to know about this,” Herrera told him. Herrera was referring to the United Nations Population Fund and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s report, “Map of Pregnancies Among Girls and Adolescents in El Salvador 2015,” which also revealed that 30 percent of all births in the country were by girls ages 10 to 19.

“You say that you know nothing about women unjustly incarcerated, yet we presented to this legislature a group of requests for pardons. With what you earn, you as legislators were obligated to read and know about those,” Herrera continued, speaking about Las 17. “We are not going to discuss this proposal that you have. It is undiscussable. We demand that the ARENA party withdraw this proposed legislation.”

As part of its campaign of resistance to the proposed law, the Agrupación produced and distributed numerous videos with messages such as “They Don’t Represent Me,” which shows the names and faces of the 21 legislators who signed on to the ARENA proposal. Another video, subtitled in English, asks, “30 to 50 Years in Prison?

International groups have also joined in resisting the bill. In a pronouncement shared with legislators, the Agrupación, and the public, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women (CLADEM) reminded the Salvadoran government of it international commitments and obligations:

[The] United Nations has recognized on repeated occasions that the total criminalization of abortion is a form of torture, that abortion is a human right when carried out with certain assumptions, and it also recommends completely decriminalizing abortion in our region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights reiterated to the Salvadoran government its concern about the persistence of the total prohibition on abortion … [and] expressly requested that it revise its legislation.

The Committee established in March 2016 that the criminalization of abortion and any obstacles to access to abortion are discriminatory and constitute violations of women’s right to health. Given that El Salvador has ratified [the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the country has an obligation to comply with its provisions.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the proposal as “scandalous.” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, emphasized in a statement on the organization’s website, “Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.”

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all,” Guevara-Rosas continued.

In the United States, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) issued a press release on July 19 condemning the proposal in El Salvador. Rep. Torres wrote, “It is terrifying to consider that, if this law passed, a Salvadoran woman who has a miscarriage could go to prison for decades or a woman who is raped and decides to undergo an abortion could be jailed for longer than the man who raped her.”

ARENA’s bill follows a campaign from May orchestrated by the right-wing Fundación Sí a la Vida (Right to Life Foundation) of El Salvador, “El Derecho a la Vida No Se Debate,” or “The Right to Life Is Not Up for Debate,” featuring misleading photos of fetuses and promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion.

The Agrupacion countered with a series of ads and vignettes that have also been applied to the fight against the bill, “The Health and Life of Women Are Well Worth a Debate.”

bien vale un debate-la salud de las mujeres

Mariana Moisa, media coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire that the widespread reaction to Velásquez Parker’s proposal indicates some shift in public perception around reproductive rights in the country.

“The public image around abortion is changing. These kinds of ideas and proposals don’t go through the system as easily as they once did. It used to be that a person in power made a couple of phone calls and poof—it was taken care of. Now, people see that Velásquez Parker’s insistence that his proposal doesn’t need any debate is undemocratic. People know that women are in prison because of these laws, and the public is asking more questions,” Moisa said.

At this point, it’s not certain whether ARENA, in coalition with other parties, has the votes to pass the bill, but it is clearly within the realm of possibility. As Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, told Rewire, “We know this misogynist proposal has generated serious anger and indignation, and we are working with other groups to pressure the legislature. More and more groups are participating with declarations, images, and videos and a clear call to withdraw the proposal. Stopping this proposed law is what is most important at this point. Then we also have to expose what happens in El Salvador with the criminalization of women.”

Even though there has been extensive exposure of what activists see as the grave problems with such a law, Garcia said, “The risk is still very real that it could pass.”

Analysis Abortion

‘Pro-Life’ Pence Transfers Money Intended for Vulnerable Households to Anti-Choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Jenn Stanley

Donald Trump's running mate has said that "life is winning in Indiana"—and the biggest winner is probably a chain of crisis pregnancy centers that landed a $3.5 million contract in funds originally intended for poor Hoosiers.

Much has been made of Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues. In 2000, when he was running for U.S. representative, Pence wrote that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ [sic] entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also said that funds meant to help people living with HIV or AIDS should no longer be given to organizations that provide HIV prevention services because they “celebrate and encourage” homosexual activity. Instead, he proposed redirecting those funds to anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” programs, which have been widely discredited by the medical community as being ineffective and dangerous.

Under Pence, ideology has replaced evidence in many areas of public life. In fact, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has just hired a running mate who, in the past year, has reallocated millions of dollars in public funds intended to provide food and health care for needy families to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence, who declined multiple requests for an interview with Rewire, has been outspoken about his anti-choice agenda. Currently, Indiana law requires people seeking abortions to receive in-person “counseling” and written information from a physician or other health-care provider 18 hours before the abortion begins. And thanks, in part, to other restrictive laws making it more difficult for clinics to operate, there are currently six abortion providers in Indiana, and none in the northern part of the state. Only four of Indiana’s 92 counties have an abortion provider. All this means that many people in need of abortion care are forced to take significant time off work, arrange child care, and possibly pay for a place to stay overnight in order to obtain it.

This environment is why a contract quietly signed by Pence last fall with the crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization Real Alternatives is so potentially dangerous for Indiana residents seeking abortion: State-subsidized crisis pregnancy centers not only don’t provide abortion but seek to persuade people out of seeking abortion, thus limiting their options.

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“Indiana is committed to the health, safety, and wellbeing [sic] of Hoosier families, women, and children,” reads the first line of the contract between the Indiana State Department of Health and Real Alternatives. The contract, which began on October 1, 2015, allocates $3.5 million over the course of a year for Real Alternatives to use to fund crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state.

Where Funding Comes From

The money for the Real Alternatives contract comes from Indiana’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, a federally funded, state-run program meant to support the most vulnerable households with children. The program was created by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act signed by former President Bill Clinton. It changed welfare from a federal program that gave money directly to needy families to one that gave money, and a lot of flexibility with how to use it, to the states.

This TANF block grant is supposed to provide low-income families a monthly cash stipend that can be used for rent, child care, and food. But states have wide discretion over these funds: In general, they must use the money to serve families with children, but they can also fund programs meant, for example, to promote marriage. They can also make changes to the requirements for fund eligibility.

As of 2012, to be eligible for cash assistance in Indiana, a household’s maximum monthly earnings could not exceed $377, the fourth-lowest level of qualification of all 50 states, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Indiana’s program also has some of the lowest maximum payouts to recipients in the country.

Part of this is due to a 2011 work requirement that stripped eligibility from many families. Under the new work requirement, a parent or caretaker receiving assistance needs to be “engaged in work once the State determines the parent or caretaker is ready to engage in work,” or after 24 months of receiving benefits. The maximum time allowed federally for a family to receive assistance is 60 months.

“There was a TANF policy change effective November 2011 that required an up-front job search to be completed at the point of application before we would proceed in authorizing TANF benefits,” Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the state’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), told Rewire. “Most [applicants] did not complete the required job search and thus applications were denied.”

Unspent money from the block grant can be carried over to following years. Indiana receives an annual block grant of $206,799,109, but the state hasn’t been using all of it thanks to those low payouts and strict eligibility requirements. The budget for the Real Alternatives contract comes from these carry-over funds.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is explicitly meant to clothe and feed children, or to create programs that help prevent “non-marital childbearing,” and Indiana’s contract with Real Alternatives does neither. The contract stipulates that Real Alternatives and its subcontractors must “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The funds, the contract says, cannot be used for organizations that will refer clients to abortion providers or promote contraceptives as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Parties involved in the contract defended it to Rewire by saying they provide material goods to expecting and new parents, but Rewire obtained documents that showed a much different reality.

Real Alternatives is an anti-choice organization run by Kevin Bagatta, a Pennsylvania lawyer who has no known professional experience with medical or mental health services. It helps open, finance, and refer clients to crisis pregnancy centers. The program started in Pennsylvania, where it received a $30 million, five-year grant to support a network of 40 subcontracting crisis pregnancy centers. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale called for an audit of the organization between June 2012 and June 2015 after hearing reports of mismanaged funds, and found $485,000 in inappropriate billing. According to the audit, Real Alternatives would not permit DHS to review how the organization used those funds. However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in April that at least some of the money appears to have been designated for programs outside the state.

Real Alternatives also received an $800,000 contract in Michigan, which inspired Gov. Pence to fund a $1 million yearlong pilot program in northern Indiana in the fall of 2014.

“The widespread success [of the pilot program] and large demand for these services led to the statewide expansion of the program,” reads the current $3.5 million contract. It is unclear what measures the state used to define “success.”

 

“Every Other Baby … Starts With Women’s Care Center”

Real Alternatives has 18 subcontracting centers in Indiana; 15 of them are owned by Women’s Care Center, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers. According to its website, Women’s Care Center serves 25,000 women annually in 23 centers throughout Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Women’s Care Centers in Indiana received 18 percent of their operating budget from state’s Real Alternatives program during the pilot year, October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015, which were mostly reimbursements for counseling and classes throughout pregnancy, rather than goods and services for new parents.

In fact, instead of the dispensation of diapers and food, “the primary purpose of the [Real Alternatives] program is to provide core services consisting of information, sharing education, and counseling that promotes childbirth and assists pregnant women in their decision regarding adoption or parenting,” the most recent contract reads.

The program’s reimbursement system prioritizes these anti-choice classes and counseling sessions: The more they bill for, the more likely they are to get more funding and thus open more clinics.

“This performance driven [sic] reimbursement system rewards vendor service providers who take their program reimbursement and reinvest in their services by opening more centers and hiring more counselors to serve more women in need,” reads the contract.

Classes, which are billed as chastity classes, parenting classes, pregnancy classes, and childbirth classes, are reimbursed at $21.80 per client. Meanwhile, as per the most recent contract, counseling sessions, which are separate from the classes, are reimbursed by the state at minimum rates of $1.09 per minute.

Jenny Hunsberger, vice president of Women’s Care Center, told Rewire that half of all pregnant women in Elkhart, LaPorte, Marshall, and St. Joseph Counties, and one in four pregnant women in Allen County, are clients of their centers. To receive any material goods, such as diapers, food, and clothing, she said, all clients must receive this counseling, at no cost to them. Such counseling is billed by the minute for reimbursement.

“When every other baby born [in those counties] starts with Women’s Care Center, that’s a lot of minutes,” Hunsberger told Rewire.

Rewire was unable to verify exactly what is said in those counseling sessions, except that they are meant to encourage clients to carry their pregnancies to term and to help them decide between adoption or child rearing, according to Hunsberger. As mandated by the contract, both counseling and classes must “provide abstinence education as the best and only method of avoiding unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”

In the first quarter of the new contract alone, Women’s Care Center billed Real Alternatives and, in turn, the state, $239,290.97; about $150,000 of that was for counseling, according to documents obtained by Rewire. In contrast, goods like food, diapers, and other essentials for new parents made up only about 18.5 percent of Women’s Care Center’s first-quarter reimbursements.

Despite the fact that the state is paying for counseling at Women’s Care Center, Rewire was unable to find any licensing for counselors affiliated with the centers. Hunsberger told Rewire that counseling assistants and counselors complete a minimum training of 200 hours overseen by a master’s level counselor, but the counselors and assistants do not all have social work or psychology degrees. Hunsberger wrote in an email to Rewire that “a typical Women’s Care Center is staffed with one or more highly skilled counselors, MSW or equivalent.”

Rewire followed up for more information regarding what “typical” or “equivalent” meant, but Hunsberger declined to answer. A search for licenses for the known counselors at Women’s Care Center’s Indiana locations turned up nothing. The Indiana State Department of Health told Rewire that it does not monitor or regulate the staff at Real Alternatives’ subcontractors, and both Women’s Care Center and Real Alternatives were uncooperative when asked for more information regarding their counseling staff and training.

Bethany Christian Services and Heartline Pregnancy Center, Real Alternatives’ other Indiana subcontractors, billed the program $380.41 and $404.39 respectively in the first quarter. They billed only for counseling sessions, and not goods or classes.

In a 2011 interview with Philadelphia City Paper, Kevin Bagatta said that Real Alternatives counselors were not required to have a degree.

“We don’t provide medical services. We provide human services,” Bagatta told the City Paper.

There are pregnancy centers in Indiana that provide a full range of referrals for reproductive health care, including for STI testing and abortion. However, they are not eligible for reimbursement under the Real Alternatives contract because they do not maintain an anti-choice mission.

Parker Dockray is the executive director of Backline, an all-options pregnancy resource center. She told Rewire that Backline serves hundreds of Indiana residents each month, and is overwhelmed by demand for diapers and other goods, but it is ineligible for the funding because it will refer women to abortion providers if they choose not to carry a pregnancy to term.

“At a time when so many Hoosier families are struggling to make ends meet, it is irresponsible for the state to divert funds intended to support low-income women and children and give it to organizations that provide biased pregnancy counseling,” Dockray told Rewire. “We wish that Indiana would use this funding to truly support families by providing job training, child care, and other safety net services, rather than using it to promote an anti-abortion agenda.”

“Life Is Winning in Indiana”

Time and again, Bagatta and Hunsberger stressed to Rewire that their organizations do not employ deceitful tactics to get women in the door and to convince them not to have abortions. However, multiple studies have proven that crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women from the moment they search online for an abortion provider through the end of their appointments inside the center.

These studies have also shown that publicly funded crisis pregnancy centers dispense medically inaccurate information to clients. In addition to spreading lies like abortion causing infertility or breast cancer, they are known to give false hopes of miscarriages to people who are pregnant and don’t want to be. A 2015 report by NARAL Pro-Choice America found this practice to be ubiquitous in centers throughout the United States, and Rewire found that Women’s Care Center is no exception. The organization’s website says that as many as 40 percent of pregnancies end in natural miscarriage. While early pregnancy loss is common, it occurs in about 10 percent of known pregnancies, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Crisis pregnancy centers also tend to crop up next to abortion clinics with flashy, deceitful signs that lead many to mistakenly walk into the wrong building. Once inside, clients are encouraged not to have an abortion.

A Google search for “abortion” and “Indianapolis” turns up an ad for the Women’s Care Center as the first result. It reads: “Abortion – Indianapolis – Free Ultrasound before Abortion. Located on 86th and Georgetown. We’re Here to Help – Call Us Today: Abortion, Ultrasound, Locations, Pregnancy.”

Hunsberger denies any deceit on the part of Women’s Care Center.

“Clients who walk in the wrong door are informed that we are not the abortion clinic and that we do not provide abortions,” Hunsberger told Rewire. “Often a woman will choose to stay or return because we provide services that she feels will help her make the best decision for her, including free medical-grade pregnancy tests and ultrasounds which help determine viability and gestational age.”

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky told Rewire that since Women’s Care Center opened on 86th and Georgetown in Indianapolis, many patients looking for its Georgetown Health Center have walked through the “wrong door.”

“We have had patients miss appointments because they went into their building and were kept there so long they missed their scheduled time,” Judi Morrison, vice president of marketing and education, told Rewire.

Sarah Bardol, director of Women’s Care Center’s Indianapolis clinic, told the Criterion Online Edition, a publication of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, that the first day the center was open, a woman and her boyfriend did walk into the “wrong door” hoping to have an abortion.

“The staff of the new Women’s Care Center in Indianapolis, located just yards from the largest abortion provider in the state, hopes for many such ‘wrong-door’ incidents as they seek to help women choose life for their unborn babies,” reported the Criterion Online Edition.

If they submit to counseling, Hoosiers who walk into the “wrong door” and “choose life” can receive up to about $40 in goods over the course their pregnancy and the first year of that child’s life. Perhaps several years ago they may have been eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but now with the work requirement, they may not qualify.

In a February 2016 interview with National Right to Life, one of the nation’s most prominent anti-choice groups, Gov. Pence said, “Life is winning in Indiana.” Though Pence was referring to the Real Alternatives contract, and the wave of anti-choice legislation sweeping through the state, it’s not clear what “life is winning” actually means. The state’s opioid epidemic claimed 1,172 lives in 2014, a statistically significant increase from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV infections have spread dramatically throughout the state, in part because of Pence’s unwillingness to support medically sound prevention practices. Indiana’s infant mortality rate is above the national average, and infant mortality among Black babies is even higher. And Pence has reduced access to prevention services such as those offered by Planned Parenthood through budget cuts and unnecessary regulations—while increasing spending on anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence’s track record shows that these policies are no mistake. The medical and financial needs of his most vulnerable constituents have taken a backseat to religious ideology throughout his time in office. He has literally reallocated money for poor Hoosiers to fund anti-choice organizations. In his tenure as both a congressman and a governor, he’s proven that whether on a national or state level, he’s willing to put “pro-life” over quality-of-life for his constituents.