Crisis Pregnancy Centers rake in dark money despite Shapiro’s funding cut | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Crisis Pregnancy Centers rake in dark money despite Shapiro’s funding cut

click to enlarge Crisis Pregnancy Centers rake in dark money despite Shapiro’s funding cut
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Protesters paste signs onto the office windows of the fake abortion clinic, Women’s Choice Network, during the Abortion Defense Committee protest in Oakland
At the end of 2023, Pennsylvania's abortion landscape will shift again — just not for the reasons progressives have feared in the wake of Roe v. Wade's 2022 overruling. Instead, Gov. Josh Shapiro is turning off a multimillion-dollar funding stream to Real Alternatives, a nonprofit Crisis Pregnancy Center (or CPC) that, among other things, encourages women to "choose childbirth over abortion."
Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh of the PA Dept. of Human Services announced the move on Aug. 3.

"Every woman seeking reproductive health care has the right to unbiased, medically accurate care and counsel,” Sec. Arkoosh said in a statement. “The Department of Human Services 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.”

Shapiro added that he would be "steadfast in defending" the right to abortion services in Pennsylvania. The DHS plans to issue a new request for applications for reproductive health services as allocated in the 2023-24 budget.

Real Alternatives was quick to cry foul, issuing a statement deploring the "terribly misinformed" decision. "Real Alternatives and its service providers have served close to 350,000 women at 1.9 million office visits," the organization claimed. "There has never been a complaint from the 350,000 women we have served."

Conservatives including Pa. Sen. Judy Ward (R-Hollidaysburg) said she was "disappointed" with the decision. "The fact that [Shapiro's administration] would celebrate the end of a proven and successful program that provides food, clothing, furniture, counseling, and shelter to women in crisis is sickening," Ward said in a press release.

However, Pittsburgh-area reproductive healthcare providers see things differently. "At our health centers, we have seen firsthand the harm Crisis Pregnancy Centers cause patients," CEO and President of Planned Parenthood of Western PA Sydney Etheredge told Pittsburgh City Paper. "By discontinuing state funding for the anti-abortion group Real Alternatives, Governor Shapiro and his administration have taken a monumental step in defending and securing reproductive health care and rights in Pennsylvania."

At issue is the lack of clarity around the services Real Alternatives and other Crisis Pregnancy Centers provide. Some, like Health for Her, which operates a center in Upper St. Clair, prominently feature the word "Abortion" and blog posts about the procedure on their websites — however, the language is vague enough that pregnant people may not understand that Health for Her doesn't actually provide abortions.

The other issue is that CPCs far outnumber abortion clinics in Pennsylvania, and nationwide, as states restrict access to abortion and contraceptive care.

As one example, Choices Pregnancy Services, a local CPC, has three offices and an "ICU Mobile Clinic" operating in Beaver and Allegheny Counties. By contrast, just two Pittsburgh abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood, and Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, provide services for the entire western half of the Commonwealth.

This may be in part due to a prevalence of dark money being funneled into CPCs across the country. One recent investigation by nonprofit outlet Rewire found that many receive generous anonymous donations and large checks from religious organizations and, in turn, provide non-medical care that may require patients to "attend classes or participate in church activities."

"What they advertise or how they get people through the door is things like free pregnancy tests or free ultrasounds," Rewire reporter Garnet Henderson told NPR's Here & Now. "But in fact, very few of their staff or volunteers have any medical training whatsoever, so usually those ultrasounds are non-diagnostic, meaning they're not real medical ultrasounds."

CPCs may also incentivize patients to return by using internal currencies, sometimes known as "baby bucks," for further services or baby-care goods such as diapers.

Shapiro's decision to cut Real Alternatives' funding doesn't go into effect until Dec. 31, and it won't stem the tide of dark money flowing from conservative donors to CPCs. Republican lawmakers like Ward are also likely to use their state Senate majority to oppose state funding for abortion providers. Still, for Planned Parenthood, the end of state funding for Real Alternatives comes as a welcome course correction.

"We are encouraged to see state tax dollars going toward certified medical providers and patients," Etheredge says. "We advocate for continuing bold steps towards a future in which all healthcare is affordable and accessible."

Disability Pride
22 images

Disability Pride

By Mars Johnson