Real Alternatives or Real B.S.?

| Reproaction

By: Shireen Shakouri

I’ve talked about how anti-abortion fake clinics receive taxpayer money to manipulate and shame women seeking abortions. I’ve also listed alternatives to Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) for people in need of real, unbiased help with their pregnancies and aftercare. But the harms of fake clinics don’t stop with pregnant people.

Yes, you’ve been affected by one fake clinic network even if you’ve never been through their doors or even been pregnant – well, they’d probably describe you as pre-pregnant, as we know the goal of many “pro-lifers” is to make sure all sex has the consequence of conception and all women become mothers.

Many of us were outraged by the administration’s rule making it easier for employers to opt out of the no-cost birth control benefit, which is part of the Affordable Care Act and still, for now at least, the law of the land. Did you know, though, that the expansion of the religious exemption to include “sincerely held moral convictions” is in part the result of one cranky group of anti-abortion fake clinics not getting its way in court?

Real Alternatives is an organization that claims to provide crisis pregnancy “counseling” and “education” and subcontracts with fake clinics in multiple states. It is not technically a religious group, but wants to be treated like one just so it can deny its employees the birth control coverage they had been entitled to under the law. They lost their case to do just that in federal appeals court this August, but Trump conveniently stepped in this October to expand the contraception rule, which would exempt any workplace that doesn’t want to provide birth control coverage in their employee health plans, all because Real Alternatives and one other anti-abortion-but-not-technically-religious organization – March for Life – wanted to deny contraceptives to their employees. [1]

Another shady coincidence: When Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, he diverted $3.5 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars (sometimes called welfare) to Real Alternatives in 2015, plus $1 million in state funds the year before. Meanwhile in Michigan, state government reporters noticed that their legislature funneled $800,000 to the organization in the fiscal year beginning in 2014, despite its failure to fulfill the terms of the state contract: Real Alternatives had not seen a single client or signed up a care provider in Michigan in its first 8 months of the contract. [2] What on Earth were they were doing with that $800k?

Real Alternatives’ misuse of TANF funding (what has been uncovered, at least) is probably the most egregious in their home state of Pennsylvania. According to a recently published audit – and Real Alternatives had sued the state to prevent such audits from happening [3] – between fiscal years 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 alone, Real Alternatives collected $497,368 that the organization admitted was collected to promote their business outside of the state, rather than provide direct services in Pennsylvania, as is expected from state-level Department of Health contracts with in-state providers. According to Pennsylvania’s Auditor General, they have been doing this since they started out in 1997, meaning the total they’ve taken from Pennsylvania taxpayers is actually much higher. [4, 5] The state’s five-year, $30.2 million dollar state grant for Real Alternatives was set to expire on June 30 of this year, but it was extended indefinitely, and the state said it has no plans to discontinue their relationship with Real Alternatives despite this blatant grift, claiming Real Alternatives was, “the only viable vendor for this type of service.” [6]

Here’s the thing about this “service,” though: As of mid-2016 Real Alternatives oversaw 93 sites and partnered with 29 organizations. According to Cosmopolitan, they allot a maximum of just $24 worth of material assistance per pregnant woman who visits. Their contract encourages staff members to ask about women’s spiritual lives in their efforts to dissuade women from obtaining abortions, and cites debunked studies linking abortion to risk of breast cancer and depression. [7]

Fake clinics using and abusing taxpayer money is bad enough, but misusing millions intended to feed hungry children while giving women in crisis the monetary equivalent of a couple movie tickets and a dose of faith-tinged stigmatization is disgraceful, and certainly cannot be termed “pro-life.” Maybe we should find an alternative to stealing money from needy families so a company can spread its tentacles into other states to deceive and shame more pregnant women and strip others of contraceptive coverage?

Stay Connected

Support The Cause

donate now

Take Action

Find a campaign and take action now