News Politics

Anti-Choice Proponent of ‘Justifiable Homicide’ Vies for Spot on Democratic Council

Adele M. Stan

"When I filed for a seat on the county Democratic Central Committee ... I didn't imagine I'd be facing off against a Neo-Confederate theocrat," says Betsy Bury of her opponent, Rev. David Whitney.

When Betsy Bury agreed to run for a seat on the central committee of the Democratic Party in Maryland’s suburban Anne Arundel County, she expected to run unopposed for a job typically considered to be thankless among the offices of political parties. Then, on Monday, from seemingly out of nowhere, she attracted a challenger: Pastor David Whitney of the Cornerstone Evangelical Church in Pasadena, Maryland, a proponent of a “justifiable homicide” doctrine that could be understood to include a rationale for killing abortion doctors.

At the same time that Whitney stepped up to run for the county committee office in the Democratic Party, reports Frederick Clarkson of Political Research Associates (PRA), Michael Peroutka, Whitney’s business partner and ideological fellow traveler, threw in for a seat on the Anne Arundel County committee of the Republican Party.

And both men are running for seats on the county council, the governing body of county government.

While members of the theocratic Constitution Party, for which Peroutka served as the 2004 presidential candidate, both men belonged to a party, founded by the late Howard Phillips, that denounced both the Republicans and Democrats as corrupt, leaving Clarkson scratching his head when considering the intention of the two anti-choice activists.

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In an interview with Rewire, Whitney reiterated that denouncement of the parties, but added, “The reality is, we’re in a two-party system and the odds are stacked” against third parties such as the Constitution Party, on whose ticket Whitney ran in 2006 for a seat in the Maryland state legislature. Because of his third-party status, he said, he was excluded from debates “even in my own neighborhood.”

“So, if you’re gonna play in the game,” he said, “sometimes you’ve got to adopt their tactics.”

In addition to their anti-choice extremism, both Peroutka and Whitney are members of the League of the South, which advocates secession from the United States and is described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Peroutka sits on the League’s board, and Whitney is chaplain of the Maryland chapter.

“They are the premier neo-Confederate organization, and have been for a long time,” Clarkson told Rewire, a group he says is made up of “people who identify with the Southern cause and think it was right, and think that Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant and a despot, and who, to this day, think [the South] got a raw deal, and it ought to rise again.”

The right to enslave people of African descent, of course, was an integral part of “the Southern cause” during the U.S. Civil War.

In a statement provided to Rewire by her campaign, Bury writes, “When I filed for a seat on the county Democratic Central Committee, to strengthen the party and promote progressive solutions to the problems facing our communities, I didn’t imagine I’d be facing off against a Neo-Confederate theocrat whose values are radically out of sync with the Democratic party.”

A recent graduate of the Emerge Maryland program that trains Democratic women to run for political office, Bury expected to follow the tried-and-true path of taking on the least glamorous and least controversial work of party politics before attempting to make a bid for public office. Now her race is emerging as a face-off between a progressive woman and a theocrat so far to the right that he has preached sermons advocating the formation of church-based Christian militias whose members should be prepared to take on the “tyranny” of the federal government.

I asked Whitney why, looking at both parties, he would choose the Democratic Party, and not the GOP.

“Well, I hope to see that the Democratic Party lives up to its motto, ‘We’re all-inclusive.’ You know, ‘We’re the party of diversity,’” Whitney said. “Well if that’s true, then they can tolerate somebody who may disagree with them on many different principles because, after all, they want everybody to have an opportunity to have their say.”

He said he hopes to push an agenda of smaller government, and reduced regulation and taxation. But Whitney’s anti-choice rhetoric veers to the extreme. So, I asked, wouldn’t that make the Republican Party a better fit for him?

“Well, there’s a significant number of pro-aborts in the Republican Party,” he said. When I said I couldn’t see many pro-choice members of the GOP through my lens, he replied, “Well, OK, from your lens, of course, but there are a significant number of pro-sodomites all over that party—Log Cabin Republicans and so on.”

He went on to describe a transgender rights bill that had passed in the Maryland Senate the day before our interview as a “bathroom bill” that will subject “young girls” to the sight of men in the ladies’ room.

In a sermon preached on June 2, Clarkson reports, Whitney lays out a case for the “justifiable homicide” of those who would “shed innocent life.”

In an audio clip from Whitney’s June sermon posted by PRA to YouTube, Whitney states, “We live in increasingly perilous times in America, and what is unthinkable today is likely to be tomorrow’s headlines. In such times as these, we need to understand that there is such a thing as Biblically justifiable homicide. It certainly never is to be taken lightly, but with deliberate and sober evaluation, based upon the Biblical principles of God’s word.”

In fact, Whitney contends that God demands the execution of anyone who kills a person in a “premeditated” fashion.

Although he never expressly mentions the word “abortion” in the sermon, earlier in the talk, which was framed in response to the Maryland legislature’s overturning of the state’s death penalty, Whitney uses the code words common to the anti-choice movement.

In his sermon, Whitney complains that even when the death penalty was on the state’s books, it was rarely used, having been invoked only five times since 1978, during which time Whitney asserts that thousands of murders had taken place in the state. “That means there’s a lot of innocent blood shed in this state,” he says. “Now that’s just talking about adults, and murder in that case—not to mention the millions of babies murdered as well.”

Since there have not been millions of babies murdered in Maryland, it is likely that Whitney is using the language of the anti-choice movement, in which fertilized ova, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses are all described as “babies.” In other words, Whitney appears to be talking about abortion.

When I raised the subject of his “justifiable homicide” sermon, before I could finish my question, Whitney interrupted.

“Well, let me ask you: Do you believe in a woman’s right to choose?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” I replied.

“You think that a woman has a right to terminate the life of her baby as long as that baby is still in her womb?” he asked.

“I believe that she has a right to terminate a pregnancy; I do, yes,” I said.

“A baby,” he said. “Terminate a baby. Then you believe in justifiable homicide. You just say that the restrictions on justifiable homicide are in the womb, and the baby can be murdered.”

I steered the conversation back to his sermon, and he complained that Clarkson, in his PRA, article, had posted only a short clip. When I told Whitney that I had gone to his church website and listened to the whole thing (audio), he replied, “Good. Hopefully God’s word will make an impact on your life and lead you to repent and faith and salvation in Jesus Christ, so that when you die, which will happen to all of us, when you die, you will go to Heaven. So, I’ll pray for your soul that that would happen—that you would not leave this life not having placed your faith in Jesus Christ as the savior who can pay for the penalty that otherwise you will have to pay for your own sins.”

But is he saying that it’s justifiable to kill a doctor who performs abortions, I asked.

“No—I’m not saying that,” Whitney said. “I’m saying that there is a right of self-defense where you can use self-defense to defend yourself and those who you are obligated to defend. If you are in a position where you are obligated to defend people in your own family—”

I interrupted him. “So, if you had sired that fetus, would it mean that you would be justified in killing anyone who would would be performing an abortion [on the woman who was carrying it]?” I asked.

“I will not say that that’s the case,” Whitney replied. But he wouldn’t deny it, either.

Clarkson likens Whitney’s rhetoric to that of Paul Hill, who was executed in 2003 for the 1994 murders of Dr. John Britton, a physician who performed abortions, and Britton’s bodyguard, James Herman Barrett, in Pensacola, Florida.

“Paul Hill was the original public theorist of [the belief] that murdering doctors could be called justifiable homicide. He thought it was the idea of protecting innocent life from imminent death—the doctrine of what they call ‘interposition,’” said Clarkson.

It was Hill, said Clarkson, who, as a prominent anti-choice activist, promoted the “justifiable homicide” theory in defense of Michael Griffin, who in 1993, killed Dr. David Gunn, another Pensacola abortion provider.

Whitney is also known for his vocal opposition to equal rights for LGBTQ people, according to Clarkson.

Peroutka, too, is an anti-LGBTQ rights activist, to the point that he was one of the top three contributors to the Maryland Alliance for Marriage (MAM), a group that campaigned against the 2012 referendum that ultimately legalized marriage equality in the Old Line State. The Human Rights Campaign, in calling on MAM to return Peroutka’s $10,000 contribution, described him as “an active white supremacist and secessionist sympathizer.”

The Constitution Party, for which Peroutka served as the 2004 standard-bearer, has a platform derived from the Christian Reconstructionist ideas of Rousas John Rushdoony, which call for institution of Biblical law as the law of the land. The party platform is explicitly anti-abortion. In 2006, Whitney ran as a Constitution Party candidate for the Maryland state legislature.

The gambit being played by Peroutka and Whitney in the county committees of the Republican and Democratic Parties is vaguely reminiscent of the stealth takeover of the party apparatus of the Republican Party by more mainstream religious right outfits such as the Christian Coalition, in the 1990s. But there’s one major catch in the Peroutka-Whitney version.

“[The Christian Coalition was] an organization that was primarily building a Christian conservative movement that would be of benefit to the Republican Party,” Clarkson explained to Rewire. “These guys have no use for the Republican Party. They’ve both been in the Republican Party in the past and have held offices in the Republican Party, but as far as they’re concerned, there’s a plague on both houses; each party is [seen as] equally corrupt.”

“These guys are infiltrators,” Clarkson continued. “They have an agenda that is out of keeping with the Republican Party and the Democratic Party agendas, even in the broadest sense of either party. And it would be fair to say that even the most conservative Republicans and the most liberal Democrats have more in common with each other than either of them have to do with the theocratic vision of Peroutka and Whitney.”

When I asked Whitney why Peroutka, his close associate and member of his congregation, chose to run for a similar office but in the opposite party from the one Whitney chose, he simply said, “He’s chosen a different path than I have chosen. And I commend him, I appreciate him, but he and I have chosen different paths.”

However tempting it may be to write off the pair as too far on the fringe to warrant concern, Clarkson cautions against ignoring them.

“[T]hey are part of national networks of like-minded people,” Clarkson said. Some of those people, such as the pastor Michael Bray and the late Paul Hill, Clarkson notes, “have committed acts of terrorism against abortion facilities, assassinated doctors based on similar ideas that are theocratic in nature and the idea of taking vigilante action to advance God’s law as they understand it.”

In her statement, Bury noted that while “[i]t would be tempting to dismiss Pastor Whitney’s chances of winning election,” Peroutka, who has amassed some wealth through his work as a debt attorney, is also Whitney’s business partner. “These partners are also both running for Anne Arundel County Council. Their slate has access to substantial funds and both are experienced in running for office,” she writes, promising to run a hard race.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly noted that Pastor David Whitney filed on Wednesday to run for office, but it was actually Monday of that week. The description of Whitney also was updated following Stan’s interview with the pastor on Tuesday, March 4.

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.

News Abortion

Exclusive: House GOP Budgets $1.2 Million for Anti-Choice ‘Witch Hunt’

Christine Grimaldi

The disclosure marks the first time Republicans have revealed how much taxpayer money they are spending on the investigation rooted in deceptively edited Center for Medical Progress videos.

Congressional Republicans investigating widely discredited claims about fetal tissue trafficking and abortion expect to spend $1.2 million on the anti-choice crusade by the end of the year.

The figure represents the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives’ total estimated budget for calendar year 2016, a high-ranking GOP aide in the U.S. House of Representatives told Rewire. The disclosure marks the first time Republicans have revealed how much taxpayer money they are spending on the investigation rooted in deceptively edited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos, dubbed by Democratic legislators as a “witch hunt.”

Contrary to the anti-choice front group’s allegations, three prior congressional inquiries and 13 states to date have found no evidence that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations.

Even as the aide revealed the scope of Republicans’ spending, more questions emerged about when and how they are getting taxpayer money.

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The Committee on House Administration has tapped nearly 80 percent of the chamber’s funding reserves, approving $790,000 for the investigation, split two-thirds and one-third between Republicans and Democrats. The committee initially transferred $300,000 to the panel in 2015, which was only for that year.

Excluding the 2015 transfer, the 2016 budget shortfall totals about $710,000. Including the transfer, about $410,000.

Republicans, however, anticipate a roughly $450,000 shortfall, according to the aide, who acknowledged that they have yet to figure out how they would make up the shortfall. Details about potential funding sources could not be immediately ascertained, though the aide said Republicans would have to produce the funding no later than December 1.

Several options exist for GOP lawmakers. Republicans could earmark the money in an increasingly likely continuing resolution, which would fund the overall U.S. government in the absence of viable appropriations bills. However, that would require U.S. Senate passage—hardly a guarantee with such a controversial rider, according to a House Democratic aide.

Republicans could amend the initial resolution creating the panel and bring it back to the floor, the Democratic aide told Rewire. Resolutions only require passage by one chamber, the aide said, providing a more failsafe option.

Another possibility is for Republicans to draw from the budget of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the panel.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), the panel’s ranking member, denounced the investigation following the disclosure of taxpayer dollars behind it.

“Republicans continue to waste taxpayer dollars recycling inflammatory and thoroughly discredited allegations of anti-abortion extremists,” Schakowsky told  Rewire in an email. “The Select Panel started with a lie, and has been conducted to perpetuate that lie through manufactured, misleading ‘evidence’ and suppression of facts that run contrary to the Republicans’ predetermined narrative. It would be bad enough if this were just a waste of taxpayer time and money. But this Panel is putting women’s health care and life-saving research at risk. America deserves better. Speaker Ryan can and should stop this witch hunt now.”

In a July 14 interview with Rewire, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), a once outspoken proponent of fetal tissue research, didn’t know how much, if any, committee funding has gone toward the select panel’s work. Upton referred Rewire to a committee spokesperson, who did not reply to requests for comment.

Select panel Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) similarly could not answer Rewire’s funding inquiries at a July 14 press conference providing an interim update on the investigation a year after the release of the first CMP videos. Blackburn deferred to Republican leadership regarding how much financial support Energy and Commerce may have provided the panel beyond the House’s reserve coffers.

“At this point, that is what we have,” she said.

Republican leaders have been increasingly vocal in their support for the panel. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in June said he trusts Blackburn to conduct the anti-choice investigation, though researchers said she jeopardized their privacy, safety, and job security through unredacted documents. Ryan cited the need for the panel’s work in response to Rewire’s funding questions at his July 14 press conference.

“We want this committee to keep doing its job, doing its work, they have [a] very important job to do,” he said.

Ryan elaborated on his support for the panel in a subsequent video, “We Are the Pro-Life Generation.”

“The panel found these weren’t isolated incidents—there’s an entire black market in aborted baby body parts,” he said. “And some of it is receiving taxpayer funding.”

Blackburn and other Republicans on the panel have made numerous references to “baby body parts” despite the link between such rhetoric and escalating anti-choice violence.