Advocates, Lawmakers Call For Investigation Into $1.6 Million Health Contract With Anti-Choice Group
At a Monday press conference at the Capitol, state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston – flanked by reproductive rights advocates – called for the State Auditor's Office to investigate the Health and Human Services Commission's process in awarding a lucrative contract to the Heidi Group, a nonprofit led by anti-abortion activist Carol Everett. Last week, Progress Texas called for a similar investigation into the state contract pro-choice groups are slamming as a politically motivated sweetheart deal and a potential violation of law.
"If we're going to talk about ideology, let's talk about ideology – but in another setting. Right now what this taxpayer money is for is to provide health care," said Farrar, chairwoman of the Texas Legislature's Women's Health Caucus. "And we know that so many women are hurting and are not able to access health care because of the state's destruction of its own health care system."
The Round Rock-based Christian nonprofit will receive some $1.65 million in public funding for health care services, the second most sizable annual contract awarded (see "Anti-Choice Group to Receive $1.6 Million Health Grant," Aug. 15). The money comes out of $18 million distributed from the Healthy Texas Women program, the state's rebranded version of the former Medicaid-based Women's Health Program, which now serves far fewer women after the state kicked out Planned Parenthood, the program's dominant provider, in 2012.
Crisis pregnancy centers jumped at the opportunity to replace the void. The largely religious-affiliated centers discourage women from undergoing abortion, and provide little to no medical services. But some CPCs have sought to slowly offer limited medical offerings, like well-woman exams, in an effort to be eligible for the state program (see "Consider 'The Source,'" Sept. 28, 2012). Everett stood with Perry during a 2012 press conference, happily encouraging the inclusion of CPCs into the program, and today it appears she may be able to usher them in. During a phone interview with the Chronicle, Everett said that at least two of the 25 providers receiving public funds through her nonprofit will be anti-choice CPCs in San Antonio and Decatur. She said the health department did not want her releasing the names of those centers, but that they do provide well-woman exams and "comprehensive health care" – although what that entails remains unclear. She contends most of the medical providers she'll dole out the funds to will be doctors and nurses who serve rural areas across 70 counties, and says no funds will go toward paying for administrative fees or rent at the Heidi Group, a nonprofit that has historically taken positions against abortion.
This wouldn't be the first time Everett's group has seen generous state funding: The Heidi Group has raked in thousands of taxpayer dollars over the years as part of the Alternatives to Abortion program, a pot of millions that subsidizes CPCs in Texas. Everett has also helped distribute another stream of CPC funding generated by the Texas "Choose Life" license plate sales, as an appointee of the attorney general. Additionally, she sits on the Health and Human Services Commission's Women's Health Advisory Committee, which advises the state agency on critical reproductive health issues.
One of the many concerns pro-choice groups have voiced about the contract is about placing such a large sum of money into the hands of someone who makes unscientific medical claims and carries an overt ideological agenda. A vocal figure in the anti-choice movement, Everett is opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and believes abortion is "sold" to children through comprehensive sex education. Just earlier this month at a public health hearing, Everett worried aloud about the threat of contracting STDs and HIV from an infected woman's fetal remains through the sewer system – a wholly unfounded statement (see "Fetal Burial Saga Continues," Aug. 5).
Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, called the state contract "very inappropriate," considering the nonprofit has never performed the services required by the funding deal. "This contract is especially troubling, given that the organization is run by a person who is so terribly misinformed about public health," said Busby. "We should not be using precious state health care dollars on organizations that have no experience in providing legitimate medical services, especially crisis pregnancy centers that already receive millions in state funding to coerce, shame, and lie to Texans considering abortion care."