Watchdog group calls on Wolf, state officials to ‘terminate’ contract with anti-abortion organization

    Abortion rights supporters rally at the Pa. State Capitol on Tuesday, 5/21/19, as part of a national day of action (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

    *Updated at 9:00 a.m., on Wednesday, 7/15/20, with additional information.

    A nonpartisan watchdog organization is calling for the termination of a more than two-decades-old contract between the commonwealth and anti-abortion group Real Alternatives. 

    In a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, the group, the Campaign for Accountability, says Real Alternatives has misappropriated public funds and exploited a state program.

    The letter comes just three weeks after the Office of Open Records reversed its decision, ordering Real Alternatives, which has received more than $12.7 million in taxpayer funding from October 2017 to June 30 2019,to turn over financial documentation for review. 

    Despite transparency and privacy concerns, anti-abortion group continues to receive taxpayer dollars

    In the 24-page letter, CFA cited the 2017 Auditor General Report and revelation of 3 percent fee charged to service providers among the reasons for their request to terminate the contract. 

    The letter states: 

    “RA appears to be exploiting its position administering the AAS [Alternative to Abortion Services] Program in order to enrich its executives with taxpayer dollars, skim money intended for service providers, and misappropriate public funding earmarked for certain operational expenses, while simultaneously failing to effectively deliver the health services that it has agreed to provide to Pennsylvanians.”

    CFA Counsel Alice Huling said in a statement: 

    “Pennsylvania taxpayers have shelled out tens of millions of dollars to Real Alternatives without receiving much benefit in return. Low-income women and children who need support deserve a program that helps them, not one focused on lining the pockets of its top executives.”

    Huling continued that Wolf should follow the lead of Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who defunded Real Alternatives in 2019 after CFA filed a complaint with state officials that led to an investigation of how Real Alternatives was using state funds.  

    “Real Alternatives has been bilking Pennsylvania taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars for nearly 25 years,” Huling said. “[Gov. Tom] Wolf should follow Governor Whitmer’s lead, cancel RA’s contract and instead fund organizations that provide services women and children need.”

    On Tuesday afternoon, Women’s Law Project, a state-based public interest legal center “devoted to protecting and expanding the rights of women, girls and LGBTQ people in Pennsylvania,” joined the CFA in calling for the contract’s termination.

    “We urgently need to help low-income pregnant people in Pennsylvania, where the unintended pregnancy rate is higher than the national average and poverty is rampant,” says Susan J. Frietsche, senior staff attorney and director of WLP’s Western Pennsylvania office  said in a statement. “It is horrific to see that Real Alternatives, the organization our state government has entrusted with our tax dollars to supposedly provide that help, has so shamelessly mismanaged this program.”

    Legal counsel for Real Alternatives called the accusations “bogus,” adding that the nonprofit would “explore legal options to combat these falsehoods.”

    The statement reads:

    “Real Alternatives is in receipt of the false, misleading, and defamatory hit piece from an opaque organization calling itself, incredibly, the ‘Campaign for Accountability’. Real Alternatives categorically denies each and every assertion contained in the letter. Real Alternatives is acutely aware that the ‘Campaign for Accountability’ is nothing but an extreme-left Washington DC front for an even more extreme-left Washington DC funding entity, the Hopewell Fund. These out-of-state organizations seek to impose their far-left orthodoxy as diktat on Pennsylvanians, while doing nothing to actually improve the health and welfare of Commonwealth citizens.”

    Cassie Miller
    A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.