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Will Michigan Governor End State Funding for Anti-Choice Clinic Network? (Updated)

Dennis Carter

Michigan Republicans have pumped millions into Real Alternatives, which has used taxpayer money to pay for "ineffective advertising and pay increases for its executives," according to a watchdog organization.

UPDATE, October 1, 2019, 4:35 p.m.: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) on Tuesday issued a line-item veto to end taxpayer funding for anti-choice organization Real Alternatives, according to the Campaign for Accountability. 

A watchdog group on Monday called on Michigan’s new Democratic governor to investigate and terminate a contract with an anti-choice organization accused by the group of misallocating state funds and prioritizing taxpayer money for pay hikes for top executives.

Real Alternatives, a network for so-called crisis pregnancy centers has reaped millions of taxpayer funds from Republican-controlled legislatures and GOP governors. The funds include nearly $2.6 million from Michigan over the past five years to run the Michigan Parenting and Pregnancy Support Program, which it received while failing to provide health services to pregnant people, according to the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit group focused on public accountability. In a letter released Monday, the Campaign for Accountability asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and other Michigan officials to “investigate and terminate the state’s contract with Real Alternatives.”

Not only does Real Alternatives use taxpayer funds in support of anti-choice pregnancy clinics that seek to dissuade people from seeking abortion care, but it has time and again failed to meet goals for service, according to a complaint the Campaign for Accountability filed Monday. Real Alternatives, after pledging to administer 8,000 visits and serve 2,000 people in Michigan in its first year of operation, “only managed to oversee a mere 785 visits and serve only 403 women,” per the complaint.  In over four and a half years, Real Alternatives has only provided service for 3,771 pregnant people, according to the Campaign for Accountability.

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Real Alternatives has prioritized “payments for ineffective advertising and pay increases for its executives, with no comparable increase in the number of women being served,” according to the Campaign for Accountability. The organization charged that Real Alternatives “appears to be skimming state funds by withholding 3% of [state] funding intended for subcontractors for its own private, unspecified use, even though RA’s administrative expenses are separately provided for in the [state] contract.” 

The complaint alleges Real Alternatives “is converting Michigan taxpayer money designated for serving women and children to its own private account for an unspecified use.”

“Whatever a person’s position on abortion, we should all be able to agree that opposition to abortion alone – without any other expertise or experience – is not sufficient qualification to run a government-funded healthcare program,” Alice C.C. Huling, an attorney for the Campaign for Accountability, said in a statement, referring to Real Alternatives as “grossly mismanaged.” “Before Michigan fritters away any more taxpayer money, the state should redirect [Real Alternative’s] funding to effective healthcare providers, and [Real Alternatives] officials should be held accountable for any misconduct.”

Reached by Rewire.News for comment on the complaint, a Whitmer spokesperson said, “We are reviewing the situation and exploring what options may be available.” Whitmer campaigned in 2018 as a pro-choice Democrat who pledged to safeguard abortion rights in Michigan should conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court strike down Roe v. Wade.

State-level Republican lawmakers across the United States have shown little interest in investigating how Real Alternatives is using taxpayer money to purportedly provide health services to pregnant people. A nonprofit watchdog organization last year sued the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, seeking information about the state’s contract with the anti-choice group favored by abortion rights opponents like Vice President Mike Pence. 

Real Alternatives has faced myriad accusations of misspending state funds funneled to the group by Republican legislators: Pennsylvania’s auditor general in September 2017 recommended ending the state’s grant to Real Alternatives after revealing that the anti-choice organization had used hundreds of thousands in state funding for activities outside the state. 

Lawmakers across the United States have pumped money into Real Alternatives using funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, a federal block grant earmarked for families with low incomes who need assistance, also known as welfare.  

A 2016 Rewire.News investigation found 81.5 percent of the money given to Real Alternatives by Indiana Republicans went to anti-choice counseling rather than goods for pregnant people like diapers, baby clothes, and formula.

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