Analysis Religion

The Evangelical Adoption Crusade

Kathryn Joyce

Even after the Silsby affair, when ten American missionaries were arrested in Haiti for attempted child theft, the Christian adoption movement is unchastened.

This article originally appeared in the May 9, 2011 edition of The Nation and was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

In late March Craig Juntunen told a group of Christian adoption advocates assembled at a Chandler, Arizona, home about his plans to increase international adoptions fivefold. Just over a year before, the world had been riveted by the saga of Laura Silsby, the American missionary arrested while trying to transport Haitian children across the Dominican border. But the lessons of that scandal seemed far from Juntunen’s mind as he described his “crusade to create a culture of adoption” by simplifying adoption’s labyrinthine ethical complexities to their emotional core. Juntunen, a former pro football quarterback and the adoptive father of three Haitian children, has emerged as a somewhat rogue figure in the adoption world since he recently founded an unorthodox nonprofit, Both Ends Burning. He has commissioned a documentary about desperate orphans in teeming institutions, Wrongfully Detained, and proposed a “clearinghouse model” that will raise the number of children adopted into US families to more than 50,000 per year.

Juntunen acknowledges that many adoption experts find his proposals naïve, particularly in a year that witnessed scandals in Haiti, Nepal and most recently Ethiopia, where widespread irregularities and trafficking allegations may slow the once-booming program to a crawl. He met a chilly reception recently at the Adoption Policy Conference at New York Law School when he spoke alongside State Department officials. But Juntunen insists that his ideas for increasing adoption constitute a social movement, akin to the civil rights movement, and that the force of a growing “adoption culture” will help them prevail.

In this expectation, he may be right. In Arizona, Juntunen was speaking with Dan Cruver, head of Together for Adoption, a key coalition in a growing evangelical adoption movement. The event was the first of the organization’s new “house conferences”: small-scale meet-ups bolstering an active national movement that promotes Christians’ adopting as a way to address a worldwide “orphan crisis” they say encompasses hundreds of millions of children. It’s a message Cruver also emphasizes in his book Reclaiming Adoption—one in a growing list of titles about “orphan theology,” which teaches that adoption mirrors Christian salvation, plays an essential role in antiabortion politics and is a means of fulfilling the Great Commission, the biblical mandate that Christians spread the gospel.

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Yet while Cruver and his colleagues have inspired thousands of Christians to enter the arduous and expensive process of international adoption, the adoption industry is on a steep decline after years of ethical problems and tightening regulations around the world. Since the mid-’90s, eighty-three countries have ratified the Hague convention regulating international adoption. By 2010 there were 12,000 such adoptions in the United States (including 1,100 exceptional “humanitarian parole” cases from post-earthquake Haiti)—almost half those at the peak in 2004. If evangelicals heed Cruver’s call en masse, it could mean not just a radical change in who raises the world’s children but a powerful clash between rapidly falling supply and sharply inflating demand.

.  .  .  .  .

Adoption has long been the province of religious and secular agencies, but in the past two years evangelical advocacy has skyrocketed. In 2009 Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the 2009 book Adopted for Life, shepherded through a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution calling on all 16 million members of the denomination to become involved in adoption or “orphan care.” Last year at least five evangelical adoption conferences were held, and between 1,000 and 2,000 churches participated in an “Orphan Sunday” event in November. And in February, the mammoth evangelical adoption agency Bethany Christian Services announced that its adoption placements had increased 13 percent since 2009, in large part because of the mobilization of churches.

“We expect adoptions will continue to rise as new movements within the Christian community raise awareness and aid for the global orphan crisis,” Bethany CEO Bill Blacquiere said.

One result has been the creation of “rainbow congregations” across the country, like the congregation Moore helps pastor in Louisville, Highview Baptist. An active adoption ministry has brought 140 adopted children into the congregation in the past five years. These children don’t recognize the flags of their home countries, Moore proudly noted at a 2010 conference, but they can all sing “Jesus Loves Me.”

.  .  .  .  .

After the Haiti earthquake, the evangelical adoption movement sprang into action. Next to longstanding religious relief orphanages, upstart evangelical missions appeared. Some flung themselves into adversarial activism, decrying international aid organizations like UNICEF for obstructing the speedy adoption of Haitian children.

In the United States, evangelicals and sympathetic politicians led the charge for expanded, expedited international adoption for what they had claimed before the earthquake was the country’s 400,000 or more orphans—a figure repeated widely, despite a UNICEF clarification that likely only 50,000 children had lost both parents. (Identifying which children fit this description is a matter of painstaking investigation.)

Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and staunch adoption advocate, argued ferociously to expand a “humanitarian parole” program that expedites adoptions in progress: “Either UNICEF is going to change or have a very difficult time getting support from the US Congress,” she told the Associated Press.

Others used the emotional language of rescue; a Mormon mission president said he had “negotiated the release” of sixty-six children bound for Salt Lake City homes.

But what most people will remember about adoption in Haiti is the saga of Laura Silsby and nine other Southern Baptists who were jailed after trying to transport thirty-three “orphans”—most solicited from living families—to an unbuilt orphanage in the Dominican Republic, to await prospective evangelical adopters. Throughout the scandal the group members maintained they were simply “ten Christians who obeyed God’s calling.”

.  .  .  .  .

Silsby’s claims to divine guidance attracted scorn from the media—one outlet accused her of “baby-snatching for Jesus”—but her language resonates with now-commonplace Christian adoption rhetoric.

The movement cuts across evangelical distinctions, with the Southern Baptists taking a doctrinal lead; charismatic prayer warrior Lou Engle, co-founder of TheCall, praying for “the most outrageous adoption movement to be released through the church”; and Rick Warren declaring that members of his Saddleback Church will adopt 500 children in three years.

Individual ministries abound, like Orphan’s Ransom, which helps evangelicals pay international adoption fees that can range from $20,000 to $63,000. Churches report a “contagious” “adoption culture” in which even small congregations have adopted dozens of children in just a few years. Movement leaders say this viral effect is key to building the movement. “Get as many people in the church to adopt, and adopt as many kids as you can,” said one speaker at the 2010 Adopting for Life Conference, noting the particular power of a pastor’s example. Following that advice, in June the SBC joined with Bethany Christian Services to begin subsidizing Southern Baptist pastors’ adoption costs.

Observers from adoption lobby groups mention two watershed moments for the movement: Warren’s entrance into the orphan care field in 2005 and President Bush’s decision in 2008 to name Jedd Medefind, a former Republican staffer in the California legislature, as head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Medefind is now the affable president of Christian Alliance for Orphans, a coalition of eighty Christian groups, and Warren’s church is helping to set up an adoption program in Rwanda.

“It was kind of a perfect storm,” reflects Tom DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), an influential secular adoption advocacy group that has sought to partner with the evangelical movement. “We hit that moment when a movement really starts to ramp up and get the attention of the public.”

The movement’s influence was on display in September in a closed-door meeting with UNICEF—frequently cast as “anti-adoption” for raising ethical concerns about adopting from disaster- or poverty-stricken nations—leveraged by six key evangelical adoption groups in an effort to find common ground.

As a way for conservative evangelicals to reclaim the social gospel message from liberal churches, adoption is a perfect storm, too, seemingly defining antiabortion activism as more truly “prolife”—or “whole life,” as one Bethany staffer coined it—while providing a new opportunity, as recent orphan theology texts explain, to spread the gospel. In Reclaiming Adoption, Cruver bluntly declares, “The ultimate purpose of human adoption by Christians, therefore, is not to give orphans parents, as important as that is. It is to place them in a Christian home that they might be positioned to receive the gospel.”

In person, Russell Moore denies that invoking the Great Commission means adoption is a vehicle for evangelism. But in Adopting for Life, he calls adoption “evangelistic to the core,” since Christian adoptive parents are “committing to years of gospel proclamation.” Likewise, although Medefind dismisses the idea of proselytizing through adoption, the Alliance membership agreement envisions “every orphan experiencing God’s unfailing love and knowing Jesus as Savior.”

Followers appear to have taken the message at face value. Last winter, in the wake of the earthquake, the Rev. Tom Benz announced his plan to “airlift 50 to 150 [Haitian] orphans” to a place called BridgeStone, a 140-acre retreat center owned by his Alabama church. Benz, a jolly pastor who runs an evangelical summer program for Ukrainian orphans next to the Black Sea, explained that the Haiti program would host children for ninety days, during which volunteers would teach them English, “immerse them in the gospel” and “incubate adoptions” with local church families.

Benz originally planned the program for Ukrainian orphans, but once he announced his Haiti plans, he says, he was overwhelmed by volunteer support and donations. Miles of new plumbing and electrical wire were laid for the center’s twenty-two cabins, and construction began on three permanent staff “lodges” (one for Benz’s family), almost all with donated materials and labor. Benz was optimistic that he could wrangle the system, with the help of a friend with State Department connections, by representing his plan as a foreign studies program.

“It’s not like we’re taking the kids permanently,” he said. “We’re taking them for ninety days, and then they’re going back.” Reminded of the adoption mission, Benz chuckled. “Well, that’s absolutely part of our agenda, but you know, that’s not the thing we’re going to emphasize to the Haitian government!”

Over the spring and summer of 2010, months wore on and passports for the Haitian children were not forthcoming. The only progress made was on the BridgeStone estate. After months of delays, a September fundraising missive asked donors for continued patience as Benz sought to “bring children out of darkness and suffering into faith and life in Jesus Christ.” Shortly thereafter, Benz’s Haiti blog came down, and he sent an announcement of the retreat center’s pending open house for the launch of its adoption program for Ukrainian children. By March it had resulted in eight adoptions that, Benz promised, would help the children “grow into mighty men and women of faith.”

.  .  .  .  .

For many adoption reformers, the Silsby affair changed the script for how adoption is discussed. Karen Moline, a board member of the watchdog group Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform, says Silsby “put a face to the worst part of what international adoption can be, which is entitlement,” meaning American parents’ sense of entitlement to developing nations’ children.

Susie Krabacher, an American and devout Christian, is director of Mercy and Sharing, a Haitian orphanage founded in 1994 to care for severely disabled, abandoned children, which does not perform adoptions. She says there is enormous economic pressure on Haitian parents to relinquish children. Many orphanages in Haiti provide for children whose parents can’t afford to feed them but who remain involved and visit often. But Haiti also has a history of unethical adoption programs. Post-earthquake, Krabacher says, they have become “the biggest money-making operation in Haiti.” Indeed, many orphanages, mindful of high international adoption fees, tell struggling parents that they should give up one of their children. The financial desperation in Haiti is so intense and the coercion so pervasive, Krabacher says, that the vast majority of Mercy and Sharing’s 181 employees “would have to look at the option of giving up a child if they didn’t have a job.”

This gets at the central problem in how most evangelical adoption ministries define the scope of the worldwide “orphan crisis.” As with the misleading estimates of Haitian orphans, the global numbers most frequently mentioned—ranging from 132 million to 210 million—paint an inaccurate picture, willfully misconstruing UNICEF tallies of developing nations’ vulnerable children, a category that includes children who have lost only one parent or who live with extended family.

Susan Bissell, UNICEF’s chief of child protection, says no good estimate exists of the number of orphans worldwide, but a 2004 UNICEF report calculated that there were at least 16 million children worldwide who had lost both parents.

“There are not 145 million kids out there waiting for someone in America to adopt them,” says Paul Myhill, president of the evangelical orphan ministry World Orphans, which he calls a “black sheep” in his field for its prioritization of in-country orphan care over adoption. “It’s unfair to bat these statistics around without using all the qualifiers.”

But those numbers have their effect. In July, Bethany Christian Services announced that “three of the largest Christian-based adoption agencies,” including itself, were “seeing record numbers of adoptions.” Bethany attributes the increase to the evangelical adoption movement as well as the crisis in Haiti, which inspired nearly 20,000 inquiries from across the United States, even though Haiti, post-quake, was quickly closed for new adoptions. Agencies like Bethany explained that they easily redirected this outpouring of enthusiasm to more open markets, like Ethiopia.

The problem is that Ethiopia, which last year was poised to become the world’s top “sending country,” is beset by numerous ethical scandals. In 2009 and 2010, investigations by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and CBS News found evidence that Christian World Adoption—a US agency whose slogan is “God is in control of our agency and your adoption”—had recruited and allegedly even bought children from intact families, some of whom didn’t understand the permanency of adoption. (CWA claimed that these cases were misunderstandings and charged that it was being persecuted for its Christian beliefs.) In January the State Department hosted a conference call to discuss ethical difficulties surrounding Ethiopia’s adoption program. Just weeks later came the announcement that the license for Minnesota-based Christian agency Better Future Adoption Services had been revoked by the Ethiopian government over accusations of child trafficking. And in March, Ethiopia’s government announced it was cutting the rate of new adoptions by 90 percent.

Just after the Haiti earthquake, the Christian Alliance for Orphans advertised that its sixth-annual summit would produce a “long-term response” for Haiti’s orphans. By late April 2010, when nearly 1,200 Christians gathered for the summit at a megachurch outside Minneapolis, organizers had to contend with the shadow Silsby had cast. Even Moore worried that the scandal would “give a black eye to the orphan-care movement.”

“We’re killing ourselves with these ethical lapses,” says Chuck Johnson, president of the secular adoption lobby group the National Council for Adoption (NCFA). “I think Christians are the worst at this sometimes, about the ends justifying the means. ‘I will do anything to save this one child’s life’; ‘I will falsify a visa application if I have to.’”

In early 2010, Johnson told me, NCFA held an online ethics seminar that drew roughly twenty-five representatives from religious and secular adoption agencies. As part of the webinar, NCFA took a blind poll of participants’ responses to various ethical situations. Either through ignorance or a willingness to bend the rules, 20–30 percent of agency representatives gave answers that were tantamount to committing visa fraud or other serious violations. “You’ll hear people saying, I’m following God’s law, not man’s laws,” Johnson says.

Brian Luwis, founder of the evangelical agency America World Adoption and a Christian Alliance board member, says ardent adoptive parents can wreak havoc for those coming after them. “I call them ‘adoption crazies,’” he says. “They’re such strong advocates, they’ll do things in desperation to have a child they think is theirs. Some are really unlawful, falsifying an adoption or something like that. Many won’t get caught, but once you get caught, what have you done to the system?” It’s not hard to imagine how movement rhetoric that casts international adoption as emergency rescue and spiritual battle could inspire a willingness to use any means necessary.

There are indications that such rule-bending occurs at the top levels of government. Blogging about the 2010 Adoption Policy Conference in New York for The Huffington Post, sociologist Philip Cohen reported a troubling statement made by Whitney Reitz, an official at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—the Homeland Security agency that oversees the entry of international adoptees. Reitz, who is credited with crafting last year’s “humanitarian parole” program for Haitian children, told the crowd, “The idea was to help the kids. And if we overlooked Hague, I don’t think I’m going to apologize.”

Chris Rhatigan, a USCIS spokesman, explains that the comment was made during a closed-door session not meant to be open to the media and in the context of a devastating natural disaster, “where very extraordinary measures were taken.” “Our main goal at the time was to save those children,” says Rhatigan. “I think they did everything they possibly could.”

.  .  .  .  .

Despite the Silsby affair, the Haiti earthquake helped accelerate the rise of the evangelical adoption movement, and increased its influence. At the Christian Alliance summit, JCICS’s DiFilipo implored the audience to advocate for less restrictive adoption policies, pointing to the drop in international adoptions from nearly 23,000 in 2004 to a projected 7,000 by 2012.

These numbers underlie a feeling among adoption advocates that even though demand is increasing, international adoption is under siege. “The days of a large sending country are over,” Johnson has said.

The decrease is often attributed to the closure of Guatemala and the slowdown in China. DiFilipo says the threat is far broader, with eight or nine countries “functionally suspending” intercountry adoption within the past three years—something he attributes to “institutional bias” against international adoption rather than documented ethical lapses.

As the numbers have dropped, the adoption industry has constricted, with the closure or merger of 25 percent of US agencies since 2000. The shuttering of Guatemala in 2008—what Luwis called “the gravy train” for many agencies—was a major factor. JCICS felt the squeeze too. In an internal 2009 document, the organization described financial shortages that forced it to halve expenses and staff in recent years.

“In the last few years, a bunch of top placing agencies in the US met together kind of clandestinely,” recalls Luwis. “To me it was a ‘saving our rear’ meeting. I take no salary. But for some of the others, this is their livelihood. They place thousands of kids; this is the way they’ve done it, they’re not going to change.”

Even as adoption numbers decrease, advocates maintain substantial bipartisan support. A key ally is Senator Landrieu, a founding member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and sponsor of numerous pieces of pro-adoption legislation—many in collaboration with hard-right senators.

Landrieu was scheduled to address the Christian Alliance summit but was waylaid by the BP oil spill. In her place spoke fellow Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, another advocate who has made common cause with right-wing senators like Sam Brownback and James Inhofe. Klobuchar told me how, as part of the first senatorial delegation to Haiti, she urged President René Préval to revise the country’s adoption and parental rights policies. In a September letter to the State Department, she interceded for US families whose pending adoptions from Nepal were halted after indications that the country’s newly reopened program was again processing trafficked children.

It’s an illustration of how temporary were the lessons from Haiti, and how common the underlying problems its scandals exposed. “Congress’s slant is that international adoption is good, so let’s get those kids out,” says Moline of Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform. “They don’t understand what the business aspect of it really means, and they must answer to their constituents’ demands.”

One of the most significant recent initiatives on Capitol Hill is the Families for Orphans Act, drafted by the Families for Orphans Coalition, whose executive committee includes DiFilipo, Luwis and Johnson. The bill, which Landrieu’s office will reintroduce this year, would create a special State Department office to oversee adoptions and offer—critics say condition—developmental aid to countries that help obtain permanent parental care for orphans, including through international adoption. In an op-ed published in the Washington Examiner in March 2010, co-sponsors Landrieu and Inhofe dangled the promise that the office could facilitate the placement of tens of thousands more Haitian children with US families.

Juntunen of Both Ends Burning believes the chokepoint created as newly mobilized evangelicals enter the tightening adoption market will spark outrage that will transform the system—cutting red tape, and possibly needed safeguards, along the way. “We’ve created this culture of adoption, and now more and more people want to participate and are left frustrated because they’re denied the opportunity to pursue what they want to pursue,” Juntunen told me. “Well, that’s where social movements happen. I think that this culture of adoption will be the force, the catalyst, for change.”

And the pressure won’t be coming just from evangelicals. In June, Together for Adoption and other evangelical leaders will meet with Juntunen and his network of secular adoption advocates to discuss ways to reverse the international adoption freefall.

After a year of headlines concerning improperly adopted children, from Haiti to Nepal to Ethiopia, evangelical advocates admit that the system is troubled, but they insist that expanding international adoption is necessary and, if done right, beautiful. “There’s always going to need to be tremendous vigilance that compassionate intentions lead to compassionate outcomes,” says the Christian Alliance’s Medefind. “But if you’re not willing to deal with complexity, it would be wise to stay away from efforts to address the world’s needs.”

Despite the altruistic motives of many evangelical adopters, the size and wealth of their movement is likely to tip the balance of a system that already responds too blithely to the moral and humanitarian concerns raised by poor countries and all too readily to Western demand.

Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

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.

Roundups Politics

Trump Taps Extremists, Anti-Choice Advocates in Effort to Woo Evangelicals

Ally Boguhn

Representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to its shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the organization's president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance at a question-and-answer event on Tuesday.

Making a play to win over the evangelical community, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump met with more than 1,000 faith and anti-choice leaders on Tuesday for a question-and-answer event in New York City and launched an “evangelical advisory board” to weigh in on how he should approach key issues for the voting bloc.

The meeting was meant to be “a guided discussion between Trump and diverse conservative Christian leaders to better understand him as a person, his position on important issues and his vision for America’s future,” according to a press release from the event’s organizers. As Rewire previously reported, numerous anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ leaders—many of them extremists—were slated to attend.

Though the event was closed to the media, Trump reportedly promised to lift a ban on tax-exempt organizations from politicking and discussed his commitment to defending religious liberties. Trump’s pitch to conservatives also included a resolution that upon his election, “the first thing we will do is support Supreme Court justices who are talented men and women, and pro-life,” according to a press release from United in Purpose, which helped organize the event.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, told the New York Times that the business mogul also reiterated promises to defund Planned Parenthood and to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at that point in a pregnancy.

In a post to its website, representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to their shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the group’s president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance. “I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened.” The post went on to note that Trump had also said he would appoint anti-choice justices to federal courts, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Just after the event, Trump’s campaign announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board. The group was “convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America,” according to a press release from the campaign. Though members of the board, which will lead Trump’s “much larger Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee to be announced later this month,” were not asked to endorse Trump, the campaign went on to note that “the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.”

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Much like the group that met with Trump on Tuesday, the presumptive Republican nominee’s advisory board roster reads like a who’s-who of conservatives with radical opposition to abortion and LGBTQ equality. Here are some of the group’s most notable members:

Michele Bachmann

Though former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that “women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care” while arguing against the ACA during a 2012 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, her views on the government’s role in restricting reproductive health and rights don’t square away with that position.

During a December 2011 “tele-town hall” event hosted by anti-choice organization Personhood USA, Bachmann reportedly falsely referred to emergency contraception as “abortion pills” and joined other Republican then-presidential candidates to advocate for making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. During the event, Bachmann touted her support of the anti-choice group’s “personhood pledge,” which required presidential candidates to agree that:

I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.

Such a policy, if enacted by lawmakers, could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception. A source from Personhood USA told the Huffington Post that Bachmann “signed the pledge and returned it within twenty minutes, which was an extraordinarily short amount of time.”

Bachmann has also claimed that God told her to introduce a measure to block marriage equality in her home state, that being an LGBTQ person is “ part of Satan,” and that same-sex marriage is a “radical experiment that will have “profound consequences.”

Mark Burns

Televangelist Mark Burns has been an ardent supporter of Trump, even appearing on behalf of the presidential candidate at February’s Faith and Family Forum, hosted by the conservative Palmetto Family Council, to deliver an anti-abortion speech.

In March, Burns also claimed that he supported Donald Trump because Democrats like Hillary Clinton supported Black “genocide” (a frequently invoked conservative myth) during an appearance on the fringe-conspiracy program, the Alex Jones show. “That’s really one of my major platforms behind Donald Trump,” said Burns, according to the Daily Beast. “He loves babies. Donald Trump is a pro-baby candidate, and it saddens me how we as African Americans are rallying behind … a party that is okay with the genocide of Black people through abortion.”

Burns’ support of Trump extended to the candidate’s suggestion that if abortion was made illegal, those who have abortions should be punished—an issue on which Trump has repeatedly shifted stances. “If the state made it illegal and said the premature death of an unborn child constituted murder, anyone connected to that crime should be held liable,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal in April. “If you break the law there should be punishment.”

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), which, according to its mission statement, exists to “teach Christians worldwide who they are in Christ Jesus and how to live a victorious life in their covenant rights and privileges.” Outlining their opposition to abortion in a post this month on the organization’s website, the couple wrote that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. “As the author of life, God considers an unborn child to be an eternal being from the moment of its conception,” explained the post. “To deliberately destroy that life before birth would be as much premeditated murder as taking the life of any other innocent person.”

The article went on to say that though it may “seem more difficult in cases such as those involving rape or incest” not to choose abortion, “God has a plan for the unborn child,” falsely claiming that the threat of life endangerment has “been almost completely alleviated through modern medicine.”

The ministries’ website also features Pregnancy Options Centre, a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) in Vancouver, Canada, that receives “financial and spiritual support” from KCM and “its Partners.” The vast majority of CPCs  regularly lie to women in order to persuade them not to have an abortion.

Kenneth Copeland, in a June 2013 sermon, tied pedophilia to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, going on to falsely claim that the ruling did not actually legalize abortion and that the decision was “the seed to murder our seed.” Copeland blamed legal abortion for the country’s economic woes, reasoning that there are “several million taxpayers that are not alive.”

Copeland, a televangelist, originally supported former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) in the 2016 Republican primary, claiming that the candidate had been “called and appointed” by God to be the next president. His ministry has previously faced scrutiny about its tax-exempt status under an investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) into six ministries “whose television preaching bankrolled leaders’ lavish lifestyles.” This investigation concluded in 2011, according to the New York Times.

James Dobson

James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family (FoF), previously supported Cruz in the Republican primary, releasing an ad for the campaign in February praising Cruz for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” As Rewire previously reported, both Dobson and his organization hold numerous extreme views:

Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the … Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.

Dobson’s own personal rhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,

Dobson has:

Robert Jeffress

A Fox News contributor and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress once suggested that the 9/11 attacks took place because of legal abortion. “All you have to do is look in history to see what God does with a nation that sanctions the killing of its own children,” said Jeffress at Liberty University’s March 2015 convocation, according to Right Wing Watch. “God will not allow sin to go unpunished and he certainly won’t allow the sacrifice of children to go unpunished.”

Jeffress spoke about the importance of electing Trump during a campaign rally in February, citing Democrats’ positions on abortion rights and Trump’s belief “in protecting the unborn.” He went on to claim that if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Hillary Clinton were elected, “there is no doubt you’re going to have the most pro-abortion president in history.”

After Trump claimed women who have abortions should be punished should it become illegal, Jeffres rushed to defend the Republican candidate from bipartisan criticism, tweeting: “Conservatives’ outrage over @realDonaldTrump abortion comments hypocritical. Maybe they don’t really believe abortion is murder.”

As documented by Media Matters, Jeffress has frequently spoken out against those of other religions and denominations, claiming that Islam is “evil” and Catholicism is “what Satan does with counterfeit religion.” The pastor has also demonstrated extreme opposition to LGBTQ equality, even claiming that same-sex marriage is a sign of the apocalypse.

Richard Land

Richard Land, now president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, was named one of Time Magazine‘s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005 for his close ties with the Republican party. While George W. Bush was president, Land participated in the administration’s “weekly teleconference with other Christian conservatives, to plot strategy on such issues as gay marriage and abortion.” Bush also appointed Land to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2002.

According to a 2002 article from the Associated Press, during his early academic career in Texas, “Land earned a reputation as a leader among abortion opponents and in 1987 became an administrative assistant to then-Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who fought for laws to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion” in the state.

Land had previously expressed “dismay” that some evangelicals were supporting Trump, claiming in October that he “take[s] that [support] as a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”