With almost no oversight, anti-abortion groups get millions in Pa. tax dollars | Thursday Coffee

Pa. is one of14 states to divert tax money, often intended for the poor, to fund these services, a new report concludes

October 28, 2021 7:16 am

Abortion rights supporters rally at the Pa. State Capitol on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 as part of a national day of action (Capital-Star photo).

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

For more than two decades now, with almost no public oversight, and less fanfare, an obscure organization called Real Alternatives has spent tens of millions of dollars of your tax money to convince pregnant people, who are often low-income and desperate for help, to not get abortions.

And at a time when access to abortion is a frontline healthcare and legal issue, these crisis pregnancy centers, as they’re known, are an often overlooked adjunct in the broader nationwide fight over abortion.

As a new report makes clear, they are proliferating: In Pennsylvania, for instance, they outnumber abortion providers by a nine-to-one ratio. In all, the report examines the activities of crisis pregnancy centers in nine states.

“Investigations into publicly-funded CPCs by advocates and watchdog groups have found evidence of misuse, waste, and potential skimming of funds in multiple states, including Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas,” the report by a multi-state coalition of public interest law centers known as Alliance: State Advocates for Women’s Rights & Gender Equality, concludes.

The Women’s Law Project, which has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, is among the participating organizations.

Despite that evidence of waste, these crisis pregnancy centers “continue to secure state contracts while the nature and quality of their services remains largely unexamined and unregulated by policymakers,” the report concludes.

Kadida Kenner, a progressive activist, leads a crowd in chants in front of the Pennsylvania Capitol in support of abortion rights Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Abortion rights advocates in Pennsylvania have spent years railing against Real Alternatives, which funds 27 of the state’s 156 crisis pregnancy centers, or about 17.3 percent, in all, according to the report.

They have charged that the organization uses deceptive tactics and feeds misinformation to pregnant people to talk them out of seeking an abortion.

“Pennsylvania CPCs make deceptive and misleading claims on their websites, including that they have no agenda and provide full and unbiased information to support a pregnant person’s choice,” the new report asserts. “Some CPCs in Pennsylvania deceptively use the word ‘choice’ or ‘options’ in their name, and many falsely claim to be the only resource that will provide unbiased information to pregnant people about all their options.”

Among those tactics, is a treatment known as “abortion pill reversal,” which is provided by 32 percent of Pennsylvania’s crisis pregnancy centers, according to the report.

This unrecognized treatment involves “injecting or prescribing high-dose progesterone to pregnant people who have taken the first medicine in the two-step protocol for medication abortion in an attempt to stop (“reverse”) the abortion,” according to the report.

The document’s authors note that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called this treatment regime “unethical” and “not based on science,” as well as “unproven and experimental.”

More than a thousand anti-abortion demonstrators gathered on the Capitol steps for the first Pennsylvania March for Life (Capital-Star photo by Marley Parish).

In 2020, advocates called on state officials to terminate its two-decade-old contract with Real Alternatives, arguing that it had misappropriated public funds and exploited a state program, the Capital-Star previously reported.

Real Alternatives, which traces its roots to state programs under the administration of the late Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr., began formal operation in 1997, PennLive reported in 2018. It was initially seeded with $2 million a year in state funding, with the amount growing nearly every year after that, PennLive reported.

All told, Pennsylvania has appropriated $100 million in taxpayer money for these crisis pregnancy centers, according to the new report.

Earlier this week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Kevin Bagatta, the CEO of Real Alternatives, makes about $300,000 a year, citing tax documents. About half of his salary comes from Pennsylvania, the Inquirer reported.

Meanwhile, that funding decision has impacted the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians in other ways.

That’s because the Keystone State is “one of a handful of states that double-funds CPCs by diverting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), safety-net funds earmarked for pregnant people and children in poverty, to Real Alternatives,” the report further charges.

That money was “siphoned” away from needy families even as the Republican-controlled General Assembly declined to spend $5 billion out of the $7 billion in federal pandemic relief money.

That action “exacerbated children’s poverty,” and partly because of public funding, “the disparity between the number of CPCs and abortion providers in Pennsylvania is significantly higher than the national average,” the report concluded.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.

Now that he’s running for governor, Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro is trying to separate himself from incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature environmental initiative, Stephen Caruso reports.

The group of challengers who are suing to block subpoenas of voters’ personal information in a Republican-spearheaded investigation of Pennsylvania’s elections has gotten biggerMarley Parish reports.

In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic and a years-long opioid epidemic, the injectable version of the life-saving overdose reversal drug Naloxone is in short supply nationally and in PennsylvaniaCassie Miller has the details.

It was a cruel summer for Pennsylvania Democrats as Republicans resumed their voter registration gains, Correspondent Nick Field reports, as he crunches the latest state data.

The good government group Committee of 70 has pitched its oversight plan for Philadelphia’s redistricting efforts to City Council, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Kadida Kenner, of the New Pennsylvania Project, says this year’s mega-bucks race for state Supreme Court feels less like an election and more like an auction. And a Philadelphia high school student says they fear a school shooting every time they walk into the classroom.

(NurPhoto/Getty Images).


The Inquirer surveys the ongoing fight over school mask mandates.

The Post-Gazette previews the race for Allegheny County Council.

President Joe Biden’s job approval ratings have dropped in a new Franklin & Marshall College poll.

In that same poll, nearly two in three respondents say they support school mask mandates, LancasterOnline reports.

The state House has given bipartisan approval to a bill that would deny unemployment benefits to people who discourage their own hiring, the Morning Call reports.

The Citizens’ Voice looks at local efforts to prepare for vaccinating kids aged 12 and younger.

A year after the police shooting of Walter WallacePhiladelphians are still pressing for changeWHYY-FM reports.

GoErie talks to Erie school board hopefuls about their post-pandemic goals.

The vigilante model in Texas’ abortion law could spread to guns and free speech, the U.S. Supreme Court was told WednesdayRoll Call has the story.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The House and Senate both come in at 11 a.m. today.
10 a.m., 515 Irvis: House State Government Committee
11 a.m., Capitol Steps: Advocates roll out their publicly sourced legislative maps.
11:30 a.m., Philadelphia: Gov. Tom Wolf joins the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus to mark the 30th anniversary of the Adoption of the Principles of Environmental Justice.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Tom Mehaffie
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Jared Solomon
6 p.m.: Reception for Sen. John Yudichak
Ride the circuit and give at the max, and you’re out a mildly preposterous $4,500 today.

Heavy Rotation
We’ll get your Thursday off to a trance-y start with some appropriately trance-y pop. Here’s ‘View from the Aeroplane Window,’ by edapollo.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Toronto got past Chicago 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday night, ending their own losing skid, and denying the ‘Hawks their first win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.