The organization recently miscalculated Manhattan’s interest in having such a billboard in SoHo, and the outcry was so loud that the billboard was taken down after New Yorkers, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, made clear their lack of appreciation for Heroic Media’s tactics.
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But the billboard, located on I-35 South close to the Capitol, was replaced by the same sign that usually occupies that space–Heroic Media’s “Pregnant? Scared?” billboard featuring a racially indeterminate–but definitely not white–woman.
The billboard space in question is owned by CBS Outdoor, but they aren’t the only corporate sponsor. Dillard’s department store is holding a fundraiser in Houston to raise money for–you guessed it–more billboards. Other than billboards and the occasional TV commercial (which always seem to appear on CBS) Heroic Media provides no services–the phone number you call if you are actually Pregnant? and Scared? redirects to Option Line’s crisis pregnancy center pushing hotline.
If you’re going to be in Washington on April 30th, why not buy a $250 ticket to Heroic’s fundraiser featuring Sarah Palin and Lila Rose? It promises to be the “Pro-life event of the year!”
If you haven’t made a donation to a Texas abortion fund, please consider doing so now.
*While you’re here, why not click over and take Heroic Media’s online poll?
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-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.
Until recently, a person who Googled "abortion clinic" might be directed to a CPC instead. CPCs, as a result, are reaching more clients than ever, but as statistics indicate, persuading very few to remain pregnant.
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are billed as alternatives to abortion clinics, but new data suggests they largely fail at their mission, persuading less than 4 percent of clients to forgo abortion care.
Of the 2.6 million clients who visited crisis pregnancy centers since 2004, 3.52 percent, or 92,679 people, decided against having an abortion. The statistics come from eKYROS.com, Inc., an anti-choice, Texas-based software company, which says more than 1,200 CPCs use its software to track clients and measure results.
The publicly available data, as the eKYROS website explains, reflects “clients who came to the center with initial intentions of Abortion or Undecided and then changed their mind to carry baby to term.”
These “relationships” are key to the ability of CPCs to show their worth to religious backers. The centers showcase their “success stories,” or “lives saved,” in annual reports, fundraising campaigns, and promotional materials.
Meanwhile, Republican-held legislatures are funneling millions to these anti-choice facilities, buoyed by “success stories,” which statistics suggest are few and far between.
One of these “success stories” is Evelin, a 26-year-old who says she was jobless, going to school, and sleeping on her mother’s couch when she learned of her pregnancy. Recounting her story in a video produced by the CPC Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, Evelin describes how the center’s staff persuaded her to remain pregnant by showing her “how big” her “baby” was and by giving her a baby book.
Evelin’s story is one of a handful that Los Angeles Pregnancy Services promotes online.
But statistics reported by eKYROS suggest that CPCs overwhelmingly fail to reach or persuade their target audience of people seeking to end a pregnancy, despite outnumbering abortion clinics. At least 22 states furnish some form of public funding to CPCs, as Republican-majority legislatures cut financial support for Planned Parenthood.
CPCs are often tied to national anti-choice umbrella groups, such as Heartbeat International, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, and Care Net, which alone numbers 1,100 affiliates. An eKYROS demo posted online indicates that some Care Net-affiliated CPCs use the software to report to the national office, although it’s not clear how many.
eKYROS and Care Net did not respond to multiple information requests, including a query about an apparent mismatch between figures reported by Care Net and eKYROS.
Care Net in its most recent annual report said it “saved” 73,000 lives in 2014. eKYROS, however, reported 3,476 births in 2014 from “clients who came to the center with initial intentions of Abortion or Undecided and then changed their mind to carry baby to term and the pregnancy outcome was confirmed as a birth by the center.”
Anti-choice groups typically equate preventing abortions to “saving lives,” so the basis for the 69,524 “lives” discrepancy is unclear.
Kimberly Kelly, who has studied CPCs for a decade and is associate professor of sociology and director of gender studies at Mississippi State University, told Rewire in an interview that the centers frequently count both the pregnant person and the fetus as “saved lives,” essentially double counting.
The tactics employed by CPCs to attract pregnant clients are legion and growing.
The centers are also evolving outreach to incorporate high-tech tools, employing digital marketing campaigns to reach patients seeking to end a pregnancy, and offering information via chat, text, and online video appointments.
CPCs, as a result, are reaching more clients than ever, as eKYROS statistics indicate, but persuading very few to remain pregnant. CPCs in 2015 convinced 4 percent of 307,068 clients to change their minds “to carry the baby to term,” compared to 1 percent of 43,086 in 2004.
Despite that, according to figures compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, ten states agreed to budget about $17 million in 2015 to providers of “abortion alternatives.”
By all accounts, eKYROS’ statistics, which rely on self-reports by CPC operators, are credible. Independent research and surveys by anti-choice groups find a similar lack of success by CPCs at dissuading patients seeking abortion.
In the first academic study of evangelical CPCs published in 2014 in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Kelly, who has long studied CPCs, writes that the centers’ national leadership has “issued several reports lamenting the declining proportions of ‘abortion-minded’ women visiting centers.” These reports suggest, as Kelly observes, that CPCs “primarily serve women who would have continued their pregnancies anyway.”
A new study in the journal Contraception reinforces these findings, showing that 2 percent of 273 clients at an Indiana pregnancy center asked about abortion over a six-month period. The center in the study offers diapers, baby clothes, parenting resources, along with abortion referrals—the only center in the state to do so. Nearly nine in ten clients asked for diapers.
The institute reportedly recommended adding more comprehensive services, particularly medical services.
“People want a center that is medical and has services that are affordable,” institute president Chuck Donovan said of the survey results.
Kelly, however, suggested that attempts at reinvention by CPCs may ignore larger, institutional shortcomings. In her research, she described a fundamental disconnect between the staff at CPCs—largely white, middle-class women—and the clientele, who generally are low-income and racially and ethnically diverse.
And, as Kelly told Rewire, the fact that CPCs fall far short of their goal doesn’t mean operators will call it quits or regard the centers as failures. If anything, the meager results cast the centers in the role of David, squaring off against the Goliath of Planned Parenthood and other health-care organizations in a culture war.
“It’s their duty to take action as God would want, the actual outcomes are up to God,” Kelly explained. “The less successful they are, the greater the proof that a fallen society needs them.”