Pennsylvania is ending a several decades-old contract with an anti-abortion pregnancy center, saying that the group in question has peddled misinformation and engaged in fearmongering to dissuade its patients from considering abortion.
In the mid-1990s, former Gov. Bob Casey, an anti-abortion Democrat, signed into law a state funding plan for Real Alternatives. The decision was likely meant to be a compromise, as the state was also funding grants for Planned Parenthood, although none of that funding went toward abortion services. Pennsylvania was the first U.S. state to fund pregnancy crisis centers through state funding.
Real Alternatives claims to provide “life-affirming pregnancy and parenting support,” and has set up more than 70 pregnancy crisis centers across the state. The state has doled out tens of millions of dollars to the organization over the years, granting over $7.2 million in funds to such centers last year alone.
Much like other crisis pregnancy centers, Real Alternatives frequently deceives its clients regarding abortion, contraception and reproductive rights, as detailed in a report from Equity Forward, an organization that “produces investigative research on domestic and global human rights, gender equity and sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice.”
That report notes that Real Alternatives, which also manages a website called LoveFacts.org, “promote[s] inaccurate, outrageous information such as the debunked claim that abortion leads to mental health problems.” The group also engages in scare tactics, pushing false claims that abortion leads to higher murder rates and that individuals who become parents after previously having an abortion are more likely to be child abusers.
The group refuses to help its clients access birth control, as centers are not allowed to advise people on the issue; instead, the organization pushes “abstinence education” as the “only method” of birth control, Equity Forward says.
Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) said that, by ending the state contract with Real Alternatives, the state will ensure that individuals “in this Commonwealth receive the reproductive health care they deserve.”
State Department of Human Services Secretary Val Arkoosh also celebrated the decision, saying that Pennsylvanians have the right to “unbiased, medically accurate care and counsel.”
“The Department of Human Services has an obligation to ensure our contractors and partners are acting in line with these values and being good stewards of taxpayer resources, and we will not relent on this commitment,” Arkoosh added.
Reproductive rights activists lauded the move.
“It is a huge win. It is a historical win. … These centers are not real health care providers,” said Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates.
“I think this is an extraordinary accomplishment,” Tara Murtha, director of strategic communications at the Women’s Law Project, told The New Republic. “It was absolutely perverse that Pennsylvanians, who overwhelmingly support abortion access by the way, were forced to fund an industry that exploits and endangers us to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.”
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