Analysis Human Rights

On Buffer Zones and ‘Peaceful’ Clinic Protesters

Tara Murtha

What relatively peaceful anti-choice protesters may not understand is that their behavior is relative: They’re a physical representation of threats that have already been made, and in some cases executed, in the past and online.

Update: This article has been updated to include additional information about the unsafe procedure performed by Kermit Gosnell that is referenced below.

On a recent Saturday morning, a middle-aged man kneels in the street in front of Planned Parenthood’s Locust Street Health Center in downtown Philadelphia. He’s one of a crowd of approximately 55 people huddled into two haphazard lines stretching approximately 15 feet from the entrance to the corner of 12th Street.

It’s just after 8 a.m.; patients are about to arrive. A young woman with her back pressed against the brick building leads a series of call-and-response prayers. Clinic escorts donning bright vests stand together silently. A civil affairs police officer looks on from across the street.

A couple approaches. They’re walking east, so they’re forced to pass through the gauntlet of protesters to get to the front door. The woman doesn’t stop walking or look at them. She strides forward, quickly. Her male companion doesn’t stop either, but he turns to glance, then glare at the crowd.

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The couple continues toward an open iron gate, where they make a sharp right turn away from the crowd and toward the entrance. The way this facility is designed, a sidewalk gate leads to a garden patio area that serves as a foyer leading to the main door. When the couple walks into the building, the first person they will see is a security guard, a gray-haired man sitting in front of an appointment booklet, behind a sheet of bullet-proof glass.

Another woman enters the gauntlet. When she’s about ten feet from the gate, a protester steps out of the prayer line. She moves toward the woman, then walks alongside her.

The protester, Kyleen Finnegan, 29, is a volunteer with Generation Life, a local group that strives to “end abortion” by promoting chastity. Finnegan doesn’t know why the woman she’s talking to is going to the clinic—it could be for could be contraception, a routine appointment, or an abortion. But everyone is treated as if they are going to have an abortion.

Finnegan, visibly and happily pregnant, tells the woman that she can help her, and that everyone there loves her. She’s holding pamphlets that she offers women entering the clinic. On the inside flap, the paper is full of bullet points beneath the headings “Abortion can hurt you.” The problems range from the obvious, like cramping, to the outright erroneous, like “later infant disability.”

The information in the pamphlet was provided by the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund.

Finnegan tells me later that she estimates that over the years, she has personally dissuaded approximately ten women from obtaining abortions, or at least from entering the clinic. Today was not one of those days. The woman she approached didn’t stop and didn’t take a pamphlet; she turned into the gate, entered the clinic, and signed in with the man behind the bullet-proof glass.

At a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is debating buffer zone laws that would protect patients visiting a reproductive health clinic from people like Finnegan, what people in the anti-choice movement might not understand is that a person doesn’t have to shoot a doctor or physically assault a patient to cause harm. It’s harmful to hand a women a piece of paper with false medical claims, and it’s harmful to be a presence that causes a woman to seek somewhere more underground.

It’s also not so much about the individual. What relatively peaceful anti-choice protesters also may not understand is that their behavior is relative: They’re a physical representation of threats that have already been made, and in some cases executed, in the past.

A Patchwork of Buffer Zones

In the early 2000s, Pittsburgh police were routinely called to mediate disputes between patients and protesters. In 2005, the Pittsburgh City Council passed a Medical Safety Zone Ordinance, Pennsylvania’s first buffer zone.

It established a 15-foot, fixed no-protest zone around clinic entrances, and a floating, eight-foot “personal bubble” around each person within 100 feet of the clinic.

The following year, a routine clinic protester challenged the ordinance. She claimed it infringed on her right to free speech and freedom of the press, since she was no longer able to try to push pamphlets into the hands of patients on their way into the clinic. She also claimed that the ordinance had been selectively enforced against her (a claim the court eventually dismissed).

In 2009, a judge noted that Pittsburgh had attempted to balance “two important competing interests”: the rights citizens have to obtain medical care unimpeded, and the First Amendment rights of protesters. The court essentially ruled that the buffer zone and bubble, taken together, was invalid, but upheld that the City of Pittsburgh had the right to implement either the fixed buffer zone or the bubble. They chose to keep the buffer zone, and both sides framed the ruling as a win.

In 2012, Harrisburg created a 20-foot buffer zone when protesters reportedly “harassed patients and staff outside the Second Street facility” after the clinic began offering medical abortions, resulting in at least six calls to the police.

Earlier this month, the York City Council proposed a 30-foot buffer zone around York health-care facilities.

But there is no buffer zone in Philadelphia, which is why Finnegan and other anti-choice protesters are able to get so close to women and their companions.

“We end up being the human buffer zone,” said Jane, a clinic escort who volunteers at Locust Street. (She asked that we not publish her last name.)

That may soon change.

State Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), an attorney, recently introduced a bill that would mandate a 15-foot buffer zone around entrances to health-care facilities in the state. SB 1208 is “content-neutral,” meaning it would apply to all health-care facilities, including hospitals and medical offices.

From the bill:

No person may knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 15 feet from any portion of an entrance to or exit from a health care facility or any portion of an entrance to or exit from a driveway or parking facility appurtenant to a health care facility.

The initiative is part of a pro-active package of women’s health bills recently unveiled by the legislature’s newly formed Women’s Health Caucus.

Installing a state-wide buffer zone is an uphill battle, politically speaking, given both the unprecedented number of state-level abortion restrictions across the country since the 2010 elections—and in Pennsylvania since the notorious 2011 Kermit Gosnell grand jury report.

But Sen. Farnese, a former volunteer clinic escort at the Philadelphia Women’s Center, told Rewire that he is determined. He’s motivated, he says, by what he witnessed as an escort before joining the state senate.

“There was literally a couple feet distance between the protesters and the front door … and at times [it was] extremely intimidating,” said Farnese, adding that he recalls protesters “shoving plastic baby things” in patients’ faces.

“Sometimes, [patients] were so upset and distraught that they just turned around [and left],” Farnese told Rewire. “These women are going to go somewhere. They’re going to exercise their right. The question is, are we going to allow them to exercise it safely?”

Farnese’s bill is still in the very early stages of the legislative process, awaiting approval by the Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Scare Tactics

At least one woman injured in Kermit Gosnell’s “house of horrors” clinic in West Philadelphia, where illegal, unsafe abortions took place, went there after feeling she was unable to face a mob of protesters at a clinic downtown.

Davida Johnson was 21 years old and coping with an unwanted pregnancy when she was “frightened away” by protesters at a downtown Philadelphia facility.

“The picketers out there,” Johnson told the Associated Press, “they just scared me half to death.”

According to Johnson, Gosnell slapped her before tying her down to perform an unsafe abortion, a ghastly procedure that left her with a “lifelong illness“:

A few months after the abortion, she began to have gynecological problems. An examination revealed venereal disease. She blames Gosnell, 69, for the lifelong illness, which she declined to identify, and for the four miscarriages she has subsequently suffered.

It’s not just patients who are intimidated by aggressive protesters.

“Buffer zones are important not only to protect women from harassment when they exercise their constitutional rights … [they] also are an important way to protect abortion providers,” David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University, told Rewire.

Cohen is on the board of the Women’s Law Project, an organization that helped develop Farnese’s legislation, and is co-author of a forthcoming book on violence against abortion providers. He recently interviewed providers all over the country.

“[They] are acutely aware that other providers have been murdered at work by protesters who were able to get too close to clinic workers,” said Cohen. “Buffer zones don’t guarantee that providers won’t be harmed, but they undoubtedly help.”

Volunteer escorts say that protesters often try to intimidate them with the same techniques they see them use on patients.

“They’ll target young women, to try and tell us about the love of Jesus, and that it’s not too late for us,” said Jane.

“They’ve definitely been more aggressive toward men,” said Eli, a 31-year-old escort at Locust Street.

Eli says he’s been physically threatened himself, and has witnessed protesters try to bait male companions accompanying women into the clinic with hyper masculine taunts.

“[They say] ‘man up,’ ‘be a man,’ ‘be tough,’ ‘don’t be weak and let your woman do this,’ ‘don’t let this happen to your baby.’”

Jane started out volunteering inside the building. She decided to volunteer outside because of what she heard from patients while recovering from surgery.

“Women would ask me, ‘Are they still going to be out there when I leave?’”

While escorts report a gendered approach to “sidewalk counseling” strategies, the big-picture anti-choice protest strategy is gendered also: It may be women who do most of the suing, but it’s been mostly men who have done the shooting.

(Anecdotally, that strategy is reflected also in the introduction and sponsorship of anti-choice bills. Though women only make up approximately 17 percent of the Pennsylvania legislature, they’ve disproportionately introduced recent anti-choice legislation.)

Two Important, Competing Interests

Pennsylvania has always been ground zero in the abortion wars. Just one year after the Supreme Court ruled states could not outlaw abortion altogether, lawmakers in the state introduced measures to limit access to abortion. Early on, they even tried to mandate that a woman notify the man who impregnated her before having an abortion.

An intense 20-year back-and-forth over the legality of various incarnations of the Abortion Control Act resulted in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the landmark ruling enabled states to pass laws restricting abortion as long as it did not present an “undue burden.” The ruling galvanized anti-choice lobbyists’ shift from focusing on overturning Roe v. Wade to the incremental, access-oriented strategy currently playing out in state legislatures around the country.

According to the Gosnell grand jury, it was the pressure of this hyper-political climate and fear of chiseling away women’s access to abortion that informed the woefully misguided decision made by “high-level government officials” in Gov. Tom Ridge’s administration to not inspect abortion clinics—which led, of course, to Kermit Gosnell.

Supporters and critics of Pennsylvania’s buffer zone bill are now watching the Supreme Court, which recently heard arguments in McCullen v. Coakley, a case examining the constitutionality of a 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts.

Rewire Senior Legal Analyst Jessica Pieklo has noted that buffer zones may be a “tough sell” to the high court, given Chief Justice John Roberts’ history of anti-choice activism—he advised President Reagan on anti-choice messaging—and the current composition of the Court.

Meanwhile, a well-documented history of 20 years of anti-choice violence—including eight murders—seems to have been virtually forgotten by the press covering the Supreme Court case. A recent article in the New York Times ignored this history while taking pains to note that the complainant, Eleanor McCullen, is “plump” and petite, and a kindly grandmother. “She is 77, and she said she posed no threat,” reported the Times.

Pro-choice advocates have criticized this overly sympathetic portrait of anti-choice protesters, pushing back that not all protesters are “plump grandmas.”

Certainly, Pennsylvania has experienced anti-choice activism far more threatening than a “plump grandma.”

In 2007, a long-time Pennsylvania anti-choice protester named John Dunkle earned a Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act violation. Signed into law in 1994, the FACE Act “makes it a federal crime to injure, intimidate, or interfere with those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health care services,” though its enforcement is very questionable.

Dunkle “protested” on the Internet and, clinic administrators say, outside clinics as well. His violation was for posting the photograph and address of a local doctor online, as well as “literature suggesting that, ‘while it does not sound good to say go shoot her between the eyes, it sounds even worse to say let her alone.’”

The doctor was so frightened that she appeared in court in a disguise, as the anti-choice activist explained to the judge that his actions were just “part of a debate about how aggressive antiabortion activists should be in pursuing their cause.”

The doctor quit her job. Dunkle had to delete the Internet posts.

Jennifer Boulanger is the former director of Allentown Women’s Center and current director of communications for the Women’s Centers; she has written publicly about threats on her life stemming from her work in reproductive health. According to Boulanger, Dunkle didn’t stop showing up at clinics after those incidents. He continued to harass women outside the clinics,despite a permanent injunction barring him from making death threats or otherwise intimidating clinic patients and staff.”

He also continues to maintain a blog, where he posts the names and prison addresses of people convicted of murdering doctors under the heading “prisoners for Christ” along with a call to arms:

I believe we should examine every legitimate means, including force, in our attempt to protect children from being tortured to death.

Several years ago, protests outside Allentown Women’s Center got so serious that clinic escorts bought blue plastic tarps, and started holding them up as a physical shield to enable patients to enter the clinic without being touched and jostled by protesters. In response, the protesters filed a lawsuit alleging that the clinic conspired with the City of Allentown and the Allentown Police Department to deprive them of their First Amendment rights.

A judge dismissed the case in 2011. The next year, Allentown Women’s Center moved to another facility six miles away, in part to try to shake protesters.

After the Allentown clinic moved to its new location, Dunkle was spotted in the parking lot, in a truck with gas cans in the back, according to Boulanger.

Finding Peace

Back on Locust Street, 20-year-old Collin Sceski stands quietly. Sceski, president of Villanovans for Life at Villanova University, says he doesn’t want to talk to patients. He doesn’t consider himself what the clinic protest movement calls a “sidewalk counselor”; he just wants to be a “peaceful presence.”

He drove into the city from the suburbs to stand outside Locust Street with a group of ten or so college friends, but doesn’t want to try to speak to patients at all.

Asked about buffer zones, Sceski said he thinks effective communication can happen 15 feet away. But he told Rewire, “that might not be the point.”

“It’s whether it’s right for them to say we have to be 15 feet away. If I believe that personally I’m better at communicating three feet away, I should have the right to stand three feet away,” he said.

“If there might be a crazy ‘pro-lifer’ who in the moment gets very upset, of course it’s OK to have things there to keep people safe,” he said. “But in a way, we already have laws against battery … we have laws against those things already.”

It’s true, there are laws against those actions, and, in the FACE Act, a law specifically targeting violence and intimidation toward patients seeking reproductive health-care services. The FACE Act is 20 years old this year. And yet, according to a 2010 report on clinic violence, “over the last 35 years, nearly 14 percent of counties with abortion providers have experienced some form of extreme violence defined as an arson attack, bombing, bomb threat, hoax device, murder, attempted murder, butyric acid attack, or vandalism.”

So, while laws provide a protocol for punishment, they seem to be doing a poor job preventing clinic violence. Meanwhile, the intentions and behavior of anti-choice protesters continue to be calibrated on a relative scale: On one end are the “plump grandmas,” like the woman challenging Massachusetts’ buffer zone in the Supreme Court. And on the other end are murderers.

Correction: A version of this article made reference to a Pennsylvania bill that would have required women to notify their father before having an abortion. In fact, the bill would have mandated that a woman notify the man who impregnated her. We regret the error.

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.

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.