The Austin Chronicle

Anti-Abortionist and Heidi Group Founder Sues U.S. Government

Suit argues anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ groups with "sincere religious beliefs" deserve Title X money

By Mary Tuma, August 2, 2019, News

A Round Rock anti-abortion activist whose group's lucrative state contracts were withdrawn last year amid controversy has rebranded her operation; now, she's suing the U.S. government for a chance to take in federal family planning dollars. Carol Everett, founder of the Heidi Group crisis pregnancy center, was awarded $1.6 million in state funds to provide health care to low-income women in 2016-19. But with no actual health care experience (and a leader who once stated humans can "contract STDs and HIV through the water system" during a state public hearing) the Heidi Group fell severely short of the goals they promised to meet, seeing only about 2,000 out of a projected 50,000 clients. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission reduced the group's funding and then finally terminated its contracts in 2018, recovering about $29,000 in repayments and identifying another $1.1 million in questionable billed costs that may need to be reimbursed. The bungled mess elicited a call for investigations from Democrats and watchdog groups who questioned why such an unqualified and ideological group would receive taxpayers' money in the first place.

After the massive and very public failure, you'd think Ever­ett might retreat into the shadows. Instead, she created a new organization with two Heidi employees – Vita Nuova, Latin for "new life" – and sued the federal government a day later. The brazen attempt to win funds, initially reported by Politico, argues that anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ groups with "sincere religious beliefs" deserve Title X money – federal grants designated for health and family planning to low-income women. The suit follows the Trump administration's move to ban clinics that get Title X funds from referring patients to abortion care – that rule is in effect but being challenged in court.

Despite its anti-choice credentials, Vita Nuova says it can't get federal funding, and wants favors called in: HHS "requires all of its grant recipients to recognize same-sex marriage, and it provides no exemptions or accommodations for organizations (such as Vita Nuova) that oppose homosexual behavior for sincere religious reasons," the lawsuit reads. Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network tells us the group is basically suing for the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people who come to them for services. "Talk about chutzpah," said Quinn. "They can change their name and create as many different organizations as they want, but neither the government nor the courts should force taxpayers to fund this toxic brew of incompetence and discrimination."

Speaking of anti-choice groups and questionable contracts, 80 state GOP lawmakers penned a letter to HHSC requesting the agency increase Alternatives to Abortion program funding to the Texas Pregnancy Care Network without considering other bidders, reports The Texas Tribune. TPCN oversees a network of crisis pregnancy centers, and as the main contractor in the A2A program, has already received millions from the state since 2006. Legislators this past session allocated $60 million, and potentially more, to the A2A program, which has been criticized for its lack of transparency, accountability, and measurable benefits from its generous subsidies to CPCs, whose mission is to deter women from abortion while offering few actual health services. (Everett's Heidi Group received thousands from the A2A program in the past.)

Reps. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, shot back with their own letter urging HHSC to stick to state law and follow through with a competitive bidding process. In a response obtained by the Chronicle, HHSC claims they'll try to do so. "As we develop and implement plans for the next biennium for the Alternatives to Abortion program, be assured that HHSC will steward the Legislature's significantly increased investment in this program wisely, growing it in fiscally responsible ways that are consistent with our policies and state law and remain true to the program's founding purpose."

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