The Texas Tribune reports on an anti-abortion program in Texas that is drawing criticism for its secretiveness and rising cost — $100 million for the next two years.
This is the model for a counseling program adopted recently by the Arkansas legislature at the urging of Rep. Jim Dotson as part of the broad anti-abortion agenda of the Republican-controlled legislature.
Dotson’s new law requires every woman seeking an abortion to talk with an anti-abortion counseling service about alternatives to abortion. The bill requires the Health Department to set up the hotline, a cost that has been estimated from $1 to $5 million. The Health Department would contract with a private agency to talk to women. They could NOT mention abortion as an alternative to a problem pregnancy.
The law takes effect in January, so we don’t yet know how it will evolve, but since it is modeled on the Texas law, the Tribune article provides some ideas of what might happen next, now that the state’s nose has been pushed into financing a tent full of private, non-profit agencies,, some focused more on preventing abortions that medical or support services.
Sixteen years ago, Texas lawmakers created a small program with a big goal: persuading women not to have abortions. It was given a few million in federal anti-poverty dollars and saw fewer than a dozen people its first year.
Since then it’s ballooned. Alternatives to Abortion is poised to cost taxpayers $100 million over the next biennium — a twentyfold budget increase — and served more than 100,000 pregnant women and parents last year.
But the Legislature has required little information about what the program has accomplished.
It wasn’t until 2017 thatlawmakers began requiring a public report on what contractors do with the money. The subcontracting process is “secret,” one lawmaker said. And state health officials don’t track how many abortions are prevented by the program. The abortion rate has steadily declined in Texas and the U.S. for decades, making it hard to decipher what, if any, role Alternatives to Abortion has played.
“I don’t know if this is untouchable by design,” said state Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission. “If they have good outcomes, I would think that they would be proud of sharing that information.”
Critics say Alternatives to Abortion has eluded accountability in the often fiscally conservative Legislature, which this year requested a study on how to make safety net services cheaper and better. At the program’s worst, critics allege, it shames women seeking abortions and is a poor and expensive substitute for women’s medical care.
Republican legislators aren’t concerned with the criticism and have protected the program while slashing others. Critics complain about lack of standards for services and the distribution of medically inaccurate information by some contractors.
Some contractors do provide some services pregnant women and new mothers need. Others are more focused on preventing abortions.
Catholic Charities of Dallas, a subcontractor slated to get almost a half-million dollars through the Texas Pregnancy Care Network last year, has food pantries stocked with vegetables and gives out diapers, wipes and other baby items. It teaches weekly parenting classes in English and Spanish, covering topics like water safety, potty training and positive discipline.
Human Coalition, another contractor, is largely a call center and marketing operation that tries to intercept women seeking an abortion who don’t typically search for pregnancy support services.
Watch for this to happen in Arkansas.
Abortion rights advocates have also raised alarms about pregnancy centers, likening them to fake clinics that lure in women seeking an abortion with the promise of a free ultrasound or general slogans like: “Pregnant? Know for Sure.”
Affiliates of the pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America have sent people undercover into these “crisis pregnancy centers” in other states and reported they provide misinformation about the health risks associated with abortion or describe abortion clinics as being “dirty and splattered with blood.”
Two women who have gone to crisis pregnancy centers in Texas told the Tribune they felt pressured to say they wouldn’t have an abortion, with one recalling being told “if you have an abortion, you’re going to go to hell.” Neither center has received money through the Alternatives to Abortion program. Both womensaid they ultimately got abortions out of state.
Pregnancy centers receive about a third of the funding from the Texas Pregnancy Care Network. They are not regulated by the state health commission.
The criticism about reliable data in Texas is relevant in Arkansas, because Dotson, citing putative Texas date, claimed the effort there discouraged a third of women contemplating abortions from following through. The Tribune report indicates reliable data aren’t available.
And speaking of Arkansas’s assault on women’s medical rights, here’s a new national article on the subject: