The Austin Chronicle

Real Alternatives: The Pennsylvania Connection

By Jordan Smith, January 26, 2007, News

Among the major expenses the Texas Pregnancy Care Network outlined in its Health and Human Services Commission contract for FY 06 was more than $200,000 associated with "deployment" and training on the client-tracking and billing service used by TPCN's mentor, the Pennsylvania-based Real Alternatives, which has run Pennsylvania's abortion-alternatives program for more than a decade. In fact, it seems likely that TPCN's principals – among them an oil- and gas-man and a NASA scientist, but no one with any nonprofit or health-care service experience – would not have been able to secure the Texas Alternatives to Abortion contract had they not linked themselves to RA. Still, it's unclear how much TPCN has paid RA and for what. Repeated phone calls made to RA's offices in Harrisburg requesting an interview for this story went unanswered.

Interestingly, Pennsylvania state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Pittsburgh, said he's not surprised RA did not respond to media inquiries. Unlike Williams' rider, which is at this point still a pilot-sized program, in Pennsylvania the "abortion alternatives" program is funded dollar-for-dollar with all other family-planning services. That means that RA splits a little more than $10 million in annual state funding with women's health-care providers. Yet, as in Texas, RA provides no medical services, only counseling services that promote childbirth.

"I don't support it," Frankel said during a recent phone interview. "I say this on the [Pennsylvania House] floor all the time: It's absurd, and the money should be going to give women health care." Frankel describes the abortion alternatives program as nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, merely because the group, which provides thousands of women with basic, preventative health care, also champions reproductive choice. And just as in Texas, says Frankel, how groups like RA actually spend the millions they are allotted without providing any medical care is something of a mystery.

"How they're even spending that kind of money on counseling people, I don't know," Frankel said. It appears that TPCN may be taking after its mentor RA in more ways than one. According to Frankel, even though he's a state lawmaker, getting information out of RA has been challenging. "There's no real public accountability," he says. "No, not at all."

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