Last year, Republicans in Michigan’s legislature passed a budget which included a $700,000 “abortion alternatives program” to be managed by the faith-based organization Real Alternatives. While the Pennsylvania non-profit claims to have brought the abortion rate in their home state down by 7-percent, though, it would appear that, after eight months of work in Michigan, they’ve yet to assist a single person. No, it would appear that they’ve yet to find a single organization that wants to work with them to establish “life-affirming” pregnancy centers. (In Pennsylvania, they work through 95 health centers under an annual $5.5 million contract with the Pennsylvania Health Department.) In spite of this fact, however, Michigan Republicans added a line item in this year’s budget to raise the annual amount allotted for the work of Real Alternatives from $700,000 to $800,000… The following clip comes from an op-ed in today’s Detroit News.
The Michigan Legislature won’t fix the roads. It hasn’t shown much interest in the state’s shockingly high rate of unplanned pregnancy, and infant and maternal death, especially in Detroit.
Yet this month, it approved an $800,000 contract in the 2014-15 budget “to promote childbirth,” alternatives to abortion and abstinence education at crisis pregnancy centers.
The no-bid contract goes solely to Real Alternatives Inc., a Pennsylvania nonprofit that helps anti-abortion, mostly faith-based centers comply with separation of church and state regulations and receive government funding.
The firm seeks out Michigan pregnancy centers that oppose abortion and the use of birth control pills and that counsel women to choose adoption or birth in unplanned pregnancies. Theoretically, state dollars will pass through Real Alternatives to reimburse the Michigan centers for diapers, baby furniture and counseling services.
That didn’t happen last year, however. Real Alternatives failed to see a single client or sign up one Michigan provider during the first eight months of the $700,000 contract, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. Although Real Alternatives says it recently signed three providers, MDCH is unaware of them. The state has so far paid Real Alternatives less than $40,000 for expenses out of the $700,000 contract ending September 30…
Kevin Bagatta, Real Alternatives’ executive director since 1994, did not return calls for comment. A staffer said he was on vacation and could not be reached…
The News then went on to quote our friend Representative Jeff Irwin. “We all want to reduce unplanned pregnancy and abortion, but my conservative colleagues don’t want to talk about contraception, about what works,” he said. “They want to talk about using state resources to advance their religious ideologies.”
Curious to know more of the backstory, I just reached out to Jeff, and here’s what he had to say.
…It’s an interesting little line item that the religious right tucked in there. They put it in there for $700,000 last cycle but only $35K or so was spent. That’s because Real Alternatives was the only group that applied for and won approval to seek clients. They served exactly zero clients and spent the 35K on admin.
…The only additional backstory is that we (House Dems, the Progressive Women’s Caucus and myself personally) have been trying to get the Republicans to work with us on programs that are proven the reduce unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions. We have a whole prevention-based package of bills that we can’t seem to even get a hearing on. My bill, which would require sex education to be comprehensive, medically accurate and age appropriate can’t get past the ‘abstinence only’ advocates. As a result, programs that might work like school-based health clinics or better sex education go without funding while crisis pregnancy centers get their own line item.
Putting aside for the moment how crazy it is that we live in a state where we’d rather invest in programs to convince young women to keep unwanted babies than in comprehensive programs with a proven track record of reducing unwanted pregnancy, is anyone else curious what Real Alternatives might have done to earn their $35,000 or $40,000 this year, seeing as how they didn’t consult with a single person in Michigan?
It seems extravagant, but I suppose, when your CEO makes around $200,000 a year, you’ve got a lot of overhead to cover.
I know how much Real Alternatives’ CEO Kevin Bagatta makes, by the way, because it was noted in an article in the Philadelphia City Paper about the dubious tactics of Real Alternatives… Here’s a clip.
…Someone on the other end refers me to a social-service agency in Philadelphia — which is one of dozens across Pennsylvania, all of which are part of a network that receives state funding.
On a recent, asphalt-bubbling hot day, I go. I tell a receptionist at the agency that I’m expecting — even though, in truth, I’m not.
The receptionist says a “counselor” will speak with me over the phone, and leads me into a private room. I tell the woman on the other end that I’m considering an abortion, mostly because I’m young and not yet financially secure. She is tender but stern. She says that if I have an abortion, “Psychologically, you’re never going to forget. You’re taking a life.”
She tells me that abortion often leads to depression — a claim that has been refuted by the American Psychological Association, which concluded in 2008 that a single abortion is “not a threat to women’s mental health,” and in fact, poses no greater a risk than delivering a baby.
She also informs me that “proven facts” show that abortion can “interfere with having other children,” another theory rejected by medical science. The Guttmacher Institute reported in 2007 that the “overwhelming scientific consensus” is that an early abortion “poses virtually no long-term risk of infertility.”
Before we part ways, she reminds me again, “Whatever decision you make is going to be with you for the rest of your life.”
“Counseling” like this (some call it advocacy) is administered across Pennsylvania, all by one organization: Real Alternatives, a staunch and vocally anti-abortion nonprofit whose stated mission is to show women that “childbirth is a viable alternative to having to submit to an abortion that they really do not want in the first place.”
Groups like Real Alternatives exist throughout the country, mostly funded by anti-abortion organizations like Heartbeat International and individual donations. Real Alternatives, though, is funded almost entirely by the state of Pennsylvania — financed, that is, by you, the taxpayer, and it has received tens of millions of dollars since 1997…
That money, City Paper has found, goes to pay for part of the $199,000 salary (including benefits) of the CEO of Real Alternatives, who has no medical experience. It also funds an army of hundreds of “counselors,” non-medically-qualified personnel whose job it is to dispense the organization’s (sometimes outright inaccurate) information — and who, despite lacking the credentials of nurse practitioners or psychologists, cost the state much more per hour for their services than either.
“These aren’t counselors,” says Democratic state Rep. Dan Frankel. “They are single-issue, anti-abortion activists. They are no different than those folks who carry placards outside of Magee hospital in my district to try to intimidate abortion clinics”…
And, thanks to Michigan Republicans, and your hard-earned tax dollars, they’re here now too.
Oh, and it’s probably worth noting that, according to Bagatta’s LinkedIn page, the work Real Alternatives is presently doing in Michigan is just a “pilot” program, and it could lead to a more comprehensive engagement. Presently, as he describes it, his company just has, “a contract with the Michigan Department of Community Health to replicate the Pennsylvania program and administer the new Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program for the southern region of Michigan.”
Also worth noting, Governor Snyder has yet to sign this budget into law, so I suppose there’s a chance that, if there’s enough outrage over this, we might see something done about it… I doubt very seriously that he’d stand up to the hardliners in his party, but you never know. Today could be one of those rare “tough nerd” days we’ve heard so much about.