News Law and Policy

California Bill Would Require Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Discuss Abortion Options

Nina Liss-Schultz

The bill would require all licensed facilities in the state that “provide family planning and pregnancy-related services to inform patients about available assistance for affordable contraception, abortion, and prenatal care, including how to obtain that assistance."

California lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would regulate the information anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) provide to clients, forcing some of them to offer resources on abortion services.

AB 775—the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act—is being backed by the groups Black Women for Wellness and NARAL Pro-Choice California, which in March published a report on the deceptive misinformation given by the state’s 167 CPCs to pregnant people seeking services.

CPCs in California, like those in the rest of the country, have the either explicit or unstated goal of preventing clients from obtaining abortions. To meet that aim, CPC workers regularly dole out misinformation about the procedure, telling pregnant people that an abortion would negatively affect their health and that they shouldn’t go through with the procedure because they will likely miscarry anyway.

The centers, which in many states receive government funds, attract people by disguising themselves as abortions clinics, advertising their services as unbiased counseling and buying up or leasing space near abortion clinics.

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Some cities in California have taken steps to curb the influence of CPCs. In San Francisco, anti-choice centers are prohibited from engaging in false or misleading advertising, and a judge can order the center to post notices saying that they do not offer abortion services or referrals.

The FACT Act, introduced by Democratic California Assemblymembers David Chiu and Autumn Burke, would require all licensed facilities in the state that “provide family planning and pregnancy-related services to inform patients about available assistance for affordable contraception, abortion, and prenatal care, including how to obtain that assistance,” according to NARAL Pro-Choice California.

The proposal would require facilities without medical licenses that offer similar services to post a notice saying they have neither a license nor licensed providers on staff. CPCs in California are a mix of licensed and unlicensed facilities.

“Thousands of women do not know the legal options they have, or the funding resources available to them,” said the American Nurses Association of California in a written statement during a Tuesday Health Committee hearing on the bill. “This bill will help ensure that pregnant women receive the information they need to make an informed decision.”

Also supporting the bill at Tuesday’s committee hearing were California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the California Council of Churches IMPACT, and the California Primary Care Association.

Meanwhile, anti-choice groups in the state have begun a campaign against AB 775, calling it a “Bully Bill” on a newly created opposition website.

In a defense of CPCs during the Tuesday hearing, a California Right to Life Committee spokesperson compared the centers to car dealerships.

“What if they were to be seen as anti-environmental with misleading advertising, selling too many cars, and making citizens not anxious to take high speed rail?” the person asked. “Would it not be possible that the California High Speed Rail Authority require that car dealerships advertise High Speed Rail locations, schedules, and fees?”

The Health Committee approved AB 775 on Tuesday and referred it to the Judiciary. Both chambers of the California legislature are Democratic-dominated.

“The Reproductive FACT act is a piece of legislation that takes us one step closer to full reproductive freedom,” Janette Robinson Flint, executive director of Black Women for Wellness, said in a statement. “By ensuring women not only have access to reproductive health information free from coercion, and informing women of the full range of choices available to live healthy full lives regardless of race, income or geographic locations, we continue to actualize the ideas of reproductive justice.”

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

Leading Anti-Choice ‘Expert’ Suggests Women Turn to Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Cope With Abortion Restrictions

Ally Boguhn

Though crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women to persuade them not get an abortion, Priscilla Coleman suggested that people dealing with the additional financial and geographical barriers imposed by waiting periods turn to those organizations for help.

A leading anti-choice “expert” suggested during an interview with Rewire at the National Right to Life Convention last week that women should turn to crisis pregnancy centers to cope with the barriers to abortion care, including obstacles she helped create.

Priscilla Coleman, one of the “False Witnesses” previously featured on Rewire for her egregious falsehoods about the supposed link between abortion and mental health, said that the “scientific information” she provides in her speaking engagements and through her nonprofit, the World Expert Consortium for Abortion Research and Education (WECARE), has helped get anti-choice bills passed in states, particularly South Dakota.

Though her work has been widely discredited by the scientific and medical community, Coleman has nonetheless frequently appeared as an “expert witness” in trials and hearings. As Coleman told Rewire, she is “not a medical doctor” but has nonetheless “been really involved for ten years now with South Dakota” and its anti-choice legislation. This included the South Dakota Informed Consent Law (HB 1166), and what she deemed to be an “anti-coercion bill,” seemingly referring to HB 1217, which requires that a woman seeking an abortion wait 72 hours and visit a crisis pregnancy center prior to the abortion.

Coleman acknowledged that the anti-choice laws in the state such as the waiting period had created barriers to care, as “women have to … get a hotel, you know, or find a way back” to clinics.

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“And that’s the complaint on the other side, that it’s making access more difficult,” Coleman went on, “but as all the data out there is showing the long-term effects of abortion, spending three more days to make the decision is in the women’s best interest, no matter what side you’re on.”

When pressed to respond to those who note that anti-choice restrictions make accessing abortion more difficult, Coleman replied that she “would just say that it’s worth a three-day hotel room and … if you’re going to pay for an abortion, allow an extra couple hundred dollars … to take some time because it has lifetime implications.”

Coleman, however, struggled to account for how one might come up with that money.

“Well, they’re somehow coming up with the money for the abortion,” said Coleman. “I’m not familiar enough with fees and things, but my understanding is that most women, no matter how poor they are, still have to pay for the procedure. Is that correct?”

Though crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women to persuade them not get an abortion, Coleman suggested that those dealing with the additional financial and geographical barriers imposed by waiting periods turn to those organizations for help.

“I’m sure that if they contacted crisis pregnancy centers … women could find a place to stay for a couple of days,” said Coleman. “I’m sure that many people affiliated with those centers would be happy to house the women in their own home if there is a room for them.”

The other anti-choice law Coleman connected herself with, HB 1166, uses the same falsehoods she claims her research supports. South Dakota’s so-called informed consent law requires doctors to receive consent prior to performing an abortion, and mandates that physicians provide those seeking care with written information that, among other things, falsely claims there is a connection between abortion and both “depression and related psychological distress” and “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.”

Coleman “served as an expert in South Dakota” after Planned Parenthood affiliates challenged the legislation, according to WECARE’s website.

As the Guttmacher Institute explains, all states already require patients consent prior to receiving medical care, and materials provided by the states that require mandated abortion counseling often offer “information that is irrelevant or misleading.”