Articles this week across the internet reveal that half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, is now available for speaking events such as “conferences, fundraisers, special events and holidays, as well as women’s, youth, abstinence and ‘pro-life’ programs” for the low, low price of $30,000 a pop.
Bristol is famous, of course, for becoming pregnant and having a baby as a teenager.
Initially, when Bristol Palin’s pregnancy came into the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign, we shied away from commenting on it. Even though it was extraordinarily tempting to point out the ridiculous hypocrisy and blatant cognitive dissonance that came from her mother’s position on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs even when faced with a pregnant adolescent, we respected the young Ms. Palin’s privacy and her personal choices. I did not and do not blame Ms. Palin for her pregnancy any more than I hold at fault the myriad other teenage girls who become unintentionally pregnant because they are failed by schools, parents, educators, and policy makers.
However, Ms. Palin’s free pass has just expired for a couple reasons. First, she is now nearly 20 years old. She was born in the same year as actresses Kristin Stewart and Emma Watson of Twilight and Harry Potter fame, respectively, both of whom are the daily subject of news stories and coverage. In other words, Bristol Palin is an adult and therefore should be treated as such.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
Second, I understand that being an adult does not necessarily make you fair game for criticism if you choose to live your life in a private manner. However, Bristol has chosen to enter the realm of politics, and she has chosen to do so for profit. As soon as anyone decides to take their personal story and turn it into a career speaking on an issue of national importance, I think we have the right and, dare I say it, the obligation to question the motives and qualifications of that person. Bristol Palin wants to talk to you about abstinence-until-marriage, and man oh man, does she want you to pay to hear what she has to say. So is she worth the $30,000?
Clearly, the answer is an unqualified and unmitigated “no.” There is no reason to think that listening to Bristol Palin’s story is going to inform, educate, enrich, or stimulate you in any way. But, if you happen to have $30,000 lying around and simply insist on spending it, let me suggest ten things you could do with that money that would be more productive than hiring Ms. Palin.
10) Hire Max Siegel to speak – Max is a courageous young man and compelling speaker who was failed by abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and contracted HIV when he was 17. Listening to his story will give your audience a real understanding of the true costs of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and the damage they can cause to young people’s lives. Plus, Max is a really nice guy and could probably use the $30,000 a lot more than Bristol.
9) Hire an entry level staffer – Because of the bad economy, there are literally thousands of recent college graduates who are dedicated to the cause of sexual health and rights who are unable to find work and support themselves. For $30,000, you could hire one of these promising young people. Not only would you get a lot more than an hour’s speech or a day of work out of them, you’d be giving an opportunity to the next generation of advocates to learn and grow.
8) Donate to a state organization – Many state organizations that support sexual health and rights and comprehensive sex education are also feeling the pinch of hard economic times. State governments are cutting their prevention budgets left and right. Thirty thousand dollars could go a long way toward helping many organizations keep their doors open and continue their important on-the-ground work. Don’t know where to find them? Visit www.siecus.org/stateprofiles to find organizations that support comprehensive sex education in your state.
7) Invest in your community – like state organizations, most local organizations and groups are struggling to make ends meet. After-school programs and community groups can do a lot to give young people goals and focus and to curb teen pregnancy and other negative outcomes. Similarly, a donation of $30,000 to your local Planned Parenthood would help insure that young women facing an unintended pregnancy would have the same opportunity to make choices that Bristol Palin did.
6) Donate to the One Voice: Reproductive Health and Population Summit – Every year, SIECUS, Advocates for Youth and the Sierra Club host a summit for young people across the country to teach them about sex education, environmental justice, and sustainable development. This program is the first step in training many of the leaders of tomorrow. A donation of $30,000 would allow us to bring at least 50 more young people each year to participate in the summit.
5) Bring 30 teen mothers to Congress – $30,000 would cover the airfare and hotel to bring 30 teen mothers who do not have the luxury of belonging to a millionaire family (as Bristol Palin talks about in this bizarre PSA) to speak to representatives in Congress about the support and education that they really need.
4) Pay for the first year of college or job training for 3 teen mothers – $30,000 doesn’t pay for what is used to in terms of an education, but it could still buy a year of college or job training for at least three teen mothers. This kind of sponsorship could help teen mothers gain access to some of the opportunities that are out of reach for them.
3) Update sex education curricula and provide teacher training – Teachers need training and curricula need updating. Everyone knows this, but sometimes the challenge to fund all of it can seem too daunting to even begin. But $30,000 could make a huge difference in one school, or one school district. And you know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles…
There is no question that Ms. Palin has the right to go about making a living however she pleases. There is also no question that there are so many other valuable programs, projects and organizations that could use $30,000 that it would be perverse to spend the money paying her speaking fee. I ask only that you think about true needs before you open your checkbook. There is too much else that needs to be done for us to waste our scarce resources on such frivolity.
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.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
“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-Gazettereported 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.
“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.
UPDATE, June 8, 8:35 a.m.: Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) lost her campaign for re-election Tuesday night, leaving Rep. George Holding (R-NC) as the Republican candidate for the state’s 2nd congressional district. Ellmers’ loss makes her the first member of the GOP to lose their seat in Congress.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made his first congressional endorsement over the weekend, backing U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) despite anti-choice groups’ attempts to unseat the congresswoman in the state’s Tuesday primary.
“Hello, this is Donald Trump and I’m calling to personally ask you to vote for Renee Ellmers,” said Trump in a robocall released Saturday on behalf of Ellmers. “Renee was the first congresswoman to endorse me, and she really was terrific and boy, is she a fighter.”
“I need her help in Washington so we can work together to defeat ISIS, secure our border, and bring back jobs—and frankly, so many other things. And Renee knows how to do it. She gets it,” continues Trump in the ad. “And together, we will make America great again.”
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
Anti-choice groups targeted Ellmers’ seat after the North Carolina representative reportedly spoke out against language in the House of Representatives’ 2015 20-week abortion ban, which would have required rape victims to formally report their assault to police in order to be exempted from the law. Ellmers expressed concerns about that aspect of the measure during a closed-door meeting on the legislation, according toPolitico.
Ellmers later told Bloomberg Politics that she supported a later version of the abortion ban with revised language. Overall, the congresswoman has been consistentlyanti-choice during her time in office.
In February, a federal district panel ordered North Carolina to redraw the state’s congressional map after it found evidence of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. The new lines shifted much of Rep. George Holding’s (R-NC) current district to Ellmers’ district, leading Holding to challenge his GOP colleague.
“We helped bring Renee Ellmers to Washington and now we want to send her home,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, told the Washington Examiner for a report published Monday. “She was exactly the type of candidate our organization exists to support, both on the campaign trail and in Congress, but she failed us.”
Ellmers’ campaign contends that the candidate has been consistently anti-choice during her time in Congress. “She never once voted against a pro-life bill,” Patrick Sebastian, senior adviser for her campaign, told Roll Call in May. “It’s absurd, honestly.”
Susan B. Anthony List’s decision to support Ellmers’ challenger, Holding, marks the first time the group has ever endorsed a man over a “pro-life woman,” reports NPR. The group is reportedly spending about $50,000 on the race, and “is sending more than 200 canvassers to knock on 12,500 doors by Tuesday and tell voters,” about Ellmers’ record on abortion, according to the Examiner.
The anti-choice group has already pledgedto back Trump in the presidential election, despite having spent months publicly questioning whether the candidate’s opposition to abortion was extreme enough.
National Right to Life Victory Fund, an anti-choice super PAC, also took aim at Ellmers in an email to supporters last week. “Nothing has the potential to do more damage to pro-life efforts than people who run as pro-life candidates back home in their pro-life districts and then stab the babies in the back when they come to DC and work against pro-life efforts,” asserted the super PAC, going on to note that the organization would be “working hard in the mail, on the phone, and on the internet to see that pro-life traitor Renee Ellmers is defeated and pro-life champion George Holding wins the June 7th Republican primary.”
Trump’s endorsement of Ellmers seemingly signals yet another disconnect between the Republican candidate and those who oppose abortion. As Rewire has previously reported, Trump has faced “months of criticism by Republicans and those who oppose abortion rights. Despite the GOP presidential candidate’s promises to defund Planned Parenthood and nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion, Trump has come under fire for suggesting that abortion patients should be punished for undergoing the procedure, should it become illegal.”