Signe Espinoza, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates executive director, speaks during a press conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller)
I want to celebrate Gov. Josh Shapiro. I really do.
Just last week, I applauded the speed in which he directed repairs to I-95, and I had to laugh at how a menagerie of sports mascots were the first to cross over the newly constructed stretch of road.
I was glad to see Shapiro confirmed his Swiftie status by declaring “Never Grow Up” as his favorite Taylor Swift song.
He also found time in the midst of all of that to pay homage to a voting bloc that helped get him elected by creating the Advisory Commission for Next Generation Engagement. He has done a lot in a short time to showcase the grit and leadership he promised on the campaign trail.
While those are accomplishments worth celebrating, I have 7,263,000 reasons to be skeptical.
Waiting within Shapiro’s proposed budget is a smack in the face to the women of the Commonwealth.
After running on an unapologetically pro-choice platform, Shapiro’s budget would use $6.26 million taxpayer dollars to directly fund anti-abortion centers.
If that wasn’t enough, he also proposes giving them an additional million dollars which he would steal away from Temporary Aid to Needy Families, a federal program in place to help families in extreme poverty, for a total of $7,263,000.
If state governments snatching emergency money away from the needy to fund anti-abortion centers seems extreme, it’s because it is. Only about a dozen states directly fund anti-abortion centers, and only 9 double fund them through TANF welfare funds.
Anti-abortion ground game
One of the most successful tools “pro-life” extremists use is a wide reaching network of anti-abortion clinics also known as crisis pregnancy centers.
You would be forgiven if you think of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) as small offshoots of local religious institutions. That is by design. In reality, CPCs outnumber abortion clinics 9:1, and 70% of clinics are affiliated with large umbrella groups of anti-abortion fanatics with budgets of millions of dollars.
In Pennsylvania that umbrella group is Real Alternatives, a group plagued by legal issues over misuse of funds and lack of transparency. Real Alternatives is 99% funded by the state yet owes little oversight to the public about how funds are spent.
Crisis pregnancy center scam
The centers themselves serve no purpose other than to push anti-abortion views. CPCs cloak themselves in the veneer of a medical facility while being free of all standards of care and ethics imposed on actual medical providers. CPCs are staffed by volunteers, not doctors, and they are not bound by HIPPA or other confidentiality laws.
Of the CPCs in Pennsylvania:
Zero offer family planning.
Zero offer contraception.
Zero offer prenatal care.
More than 64% were found to give false or misleading information. More than 40% of publicly funded CPCs were found to advertise so-called “abortion pill reversal” a claim the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists call unethical and unscientific.
These are state funded “pregnancy centers” who unequivocally do not provide care for pregnant people. At a time where nearly 25% of counties are considered maternal care deserts, and maternal mortality is steadily rising, CPCs have been free to proliferate to the detriment of Pennsylvania’s women.
I am comfortable giving the governor a pass for maybe not understanding the incredible damage done by these anti-abortion centers.
I found myself at the age of 16 standing in a crisis pregnancy center. I realize now, I was the perfect target. Alone, scared, a child. I imagine they jumped for joy as I sat with my face in my hands and cried. I believed them when they said they gave needy parents money, and I would think back to that lie in the coming years when I would go days without a proper meal. I listened as they told me that the extreme morning sickness I was experiencing was a result of my promiscuity. (A medical diagnosis of Hyperemesis Gravidarum would more accurately come later)
Even knowing now, the poverty, hunger, and violence I would go on to face as a young parent, the morning spent at the crisis pregnancy center stands out vivid in my memory for its cruelty.
Women are victimized by fake healthcare clinics. They are baited with promises of pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and medical expertise only to be met with religious fanatics willing to sacrifice a woman’s boundaries, privacy, and wellbeing in the pursuit of pushing a political agenda.
The amount of manipulation required for CPCs to get people through their doors is breathtaking. CPCs can only operate if they conceal crucial information about a woman’s options and safety. It is premeditated, purposeful exploitation, and state subsidized abuse to deprive women of a full understanding of her options.
This is also a public health anomaly- what other medical condition allows for hundreds of centers to exist that intentionally spread disinformation? A fake dialysis center, a rogue oncology facility, or a faux pediatrician would be called criminal and prosecuted for endangering public health.
Yet a Democratic governor in a state that overwhelming supports a women’s right to choose continues to gift wrap millions of dollars annually to anti-choice extremists.
A moral document
If the courage to stand alone and condemn CPCs is what is holding us back, rest assured progressives across the country have taken on this fight. The attorneys general in both Massachusetts and California has issued direct warnings about CPCs telling consumers to be aware of their misinformation.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed funding for CPCs, stating, through a spokesperson, that they were “fake health centers that intentionally withhold information from women about their health,” the Michigan Advance, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, reported.
Even Google and Yelp have responded to CPCs increasing overreach by clearly separating CPCs and abortion clinics into two distinct categories of search results.
It is a deeply wounding budgetary dagger to the heart of Pennsylvania’s women that our Commonwealth funds centers that are known for being predatory and dangerous. The utter ridiculousness of CPCs creating poverty and then benefiting from money designated to help families in poverty is almost too much to fathom.
Women in Pennsylvania deserve to be protected. It is not a high bar to expect any facility catering to pregnant people to be comprehensive, unbiased, and free of coercion.
Candidates running in 2022 ran successfully on a platform of women’s rights. Our elected officials would do well to remember that during budget season. A budget is a moral document, and the morals of Pennsylvanians are clear: public funds for public health.
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