Democratic lawmakers and abortion rights advocates rally on the Pennsylvania Capitol steps on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (Capital-Star photo)
The Shapiro administration announced Thursday that it would terminate the Commonwealth’s contract with an organization that supports anti-abortion centers across Pennsylvania effective Dec. 31.
Real Alternatives, a Pennsylvania-based organization that supports and partners with anti-abortion centers to dissuade pregnant people from seeking abortion care, has received state funding for 30 years.
“For decades, taxpayer dollars have gone to fund Real Alternatives. My Administration will not continue that pattern – we will ensure women in this Commonwealth receive the reproductive health care they deserve,” Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro said in a statement announcing the change.
Shapiro, who campaigned as a champion for reproductive rights in his run for the governor’s office against anti-choice Republican Doug Mastriano, said that he will “be steadfast in defending that right.”
“Pennsylvanians made clear by electing me as governor that they support a woman’s freedom to choose,” Shapiro said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the state agency through which Real Alternatives was previously contracted, has been required to allocate general funds to the anti-abortion organization since the mid-1990s.
Real Alternatives received more than $30 million in public funding between 2012 and 2017, according to state records.
DHS Secretary Val Arkoosh said that the department “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.”
Pennsylvania’s move to eliminate state funding for Real Alternatives comes after years of controversy, including a report from then-Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in relation to taxpayer dollars being funneled to out-of-state operations in Michigan and Indiana, and concerns over patient privacy.
Pennsylvania is now the second of the three states where Real Alternatives operates to defund the organization.
In 2019, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer opted to defund the organization over complaints that it was misusing taxpayer dollars.
Indiana continues to allocate state funding to Real Alternatives, despite questions over its spending practices.
Supporters praised Shapiro’s move to eliminate Real Alternatives’ funding in the 2023-24 fiscal year, calling it an “enormous win.”
“In a post-Roe world, we can’t settle for state funding of CPCs,” Planned Parenthood PA Advocates Executive Director Signe Espinoza said in a statement Thursday. “We deserve the freedom and the privacy to make our most intimate health care decisions with our doctors and without the predatory influence of anti-abortion counseling.”
Tara Murtha, director of strategic communications for Women’s Law Project, a Pennsylvania-based legal nonprofit, said the organization is grateful to the Shapiro administration for taking “bold action.”
“The Shapiro Administration has pushed Pennsylvania into the right side of history by announcing the termination of funding to Real Alternatives,” Murtha said. “The people of Pennsylvania, medical experts, reproductive health advocates, and government accountability watchdogs who have been demanding accountability have been heard today.”
In 2020, one watchdog group — Campaign for Accountability — called on Shapiro’s predecessor Tom Wolf to end the commonwealth’s support of Real Alternatives, saying the organization was “bilking Pennsylvania taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars.”
Equity Forward, a reproductive rights watchdog group, engaged in a five-year legal battle for financial records, arguing that the public had a right to know how Real Alternatives was spending taxpayer dollars.
In July 2022, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Office of Open Records ruling that Real Alternatives did not have to subject its Program Development and Advancement Agreements, or secondary agreements with service providers, to public scrutiny.
A little more than a year after the court’s decision, Equity Forward is applauding the Shapiro administration’s decision to cancel its contract with Real Alternatives.
“When anti-abortion centers are funded with public dollars, states are actively choosing to deny direct support to people who are in need of assistance,” Ashley Underwood, director of Equity Forward, said in a statement. “It’s high time for all states to stop funding anti-abortion propaganda. Instead, let’s ensure that people have real health care, real accurate information about abortion care and parenting options, and real meaningful support to raise children once they are born.”
State lawmakers also weighed in on the decision to terminate funding for Real Alternatives.
Allegheny County Rep. La’Tasha D. Mayes, who worked as a reproductive justice advocate before she was elected to the state House in 2022, praised the move on Twitter Thursday.
“After decades of our Commonwealth funding fake clinics that deceive pregnant women and folx, years of advocacy for #ReproductiveJustice and the leadership of my House colleagues especially in @PAWomensHealth, @GovernorShapiro has ended funding for #RealAlternatives!”
After decades of our Commonwealth funding fake clinics that deceive pregnant women and folx, years of advocacy for #ReproductiveJustice and the leadership of my House colleagues especially in @PAWomensHealth, @GovernorShapiro has ended funding for #RealAlternatives!#repmayes
— Rep. La’Tasha D. Mayes (@RepMayes) August 4, 2023
Real Alternatives did not immediately respond to the Capital-Star’s request for comment on the decision.
With Real Alternatives’ state contract set to expire on Dec. 31, 2023, DHS said it will soon issue a Request for Applications (RFA), seeking applicants for “women’s health service programs as allocated in the 2023-24 Budget.”
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