Texas Taxes Spreading the "Pro-Life" Gospel
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Tue Jan 10, 2006 at 12:59:51 AM EST
Last week, in a story about the ongoing shutdown of family planning services by the highly influential "pro-life" contingent in the Texas Legislature, I gave passing mention to a parallel initiative -- the diversion of $5,000,000 in funds previously designated for family planning and primary health screening to promote and support crisis pregnancy centers.

Only two groups applied to administer $5 million earmarked to promote childbirth over abortion after Planned Parenthood representatives complained that application requirements were too tight.

The two that answered the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's call for proposals are the Texas Pregnancy Care Network of Bellville, partnered with Real Alternatives; and The Heidi Group of Round Rock, partnered with the Texas Association of Women's Resource Organizations.

Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Harris said that although some adjustments in the program description had been made, "We still had to ensure that the active promotion of childbirth is a fundamental aspect of the statewide program that will be developed."  It is astonishing that only two groups claim to qualify for this lucrative contract.  But given the openly stated evangelical mission of crisis pregnancy centers that this initiative will support, meeting the requirements of both the state program and federal law may present a bigger challenge than dissuading women from choosing abortion.  

In response to a question about the applicability of faith-based rules and the details regarding acceptable activities, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission states that "providers and subcontractors must demonstrate their approach for complying with Charitable Choice Provisions Applicable to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Family Program ... of the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families." Federal rules make a clear distinction between a religiously-sponsored group and its allowable activities.

Federal TANF and State MOE funds that are provided directly to a participating organization may not be used to support inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization.
Thus, direct Federal TANF and State MOE funds may not be used, for example, to conduct prayer meetings, devotional studies of sacred texts, or any other activity that is inherently religious.

So who are the two groups contending for the state's $5,000,000 prize, and what types of services might we expect them to deliver to the women of Texas through what the state calls "existing community service delivery programs" - AKA crisis pregnancy centers?

The Texas Pregnancy Care Network of Bellville has proved an elusive target for journalists seeking details.  The only information made public is that it would use an antiabortion program developed by Pennsylvania-based Real Alternatives. The Real Alternatives website states that its associated service providers must "agree not to promote the teaching or philosophy of any religion or religious organization while providing contract services to the client."  That sounds encouraging, but the site also says that "Real Alternatives utilizes a network of existing community agencies" -- and as we will see, that little technicality presents a real problem.

The Heidi Group is much less reticent about who it is and what it does. Founder and CEO Carol Everett makes plain that The Heidi Group's "most important work is prayer."

When women choose life for their babies, the Gospel is also shared and, as many come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, the culture of our state and nation will change. To God be the Glory!

The Heidi Group offers crisis pregnancy centers tools for sophisticated multimedia messaging -- and this is the message.

We offer the woman a balanced approach to life, understanding that the unplanned pregnancy is the immediate concern, but she needs hope offered through a relationship with Christ. We recognize women have practical, emotional and spiritual needs that can be met through life skill training such as career and parenting classes, but her real needs will be met through discipleship.

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Carol Everett's "balanced approach to life" seems to have been a relatively recent development. According to her own description of her former career as the administrator of abortion-providing clinics -- as detailed in her book Blood Money and as posted on the website of Priests for Life -- Ms. Everett participated in some disturbingly shoddy and unethical practices -- including "seducing" women into having abortions they didn't want and performing abortion procedures on women who were not even pregnant -- with no motive other than profit.

[There] was a report that Channel 4, a television station in our area did. They sent their star reporter, Laura Randall, in, wired for sound. And we so convinced her that she was pregnant and that yes, she needed an abortion, and we had the answer, that when she left there the poor girl was so shaken that she went to another doctor. She was not sure she wasn't pregnant. And she wasn't pregnant. So we had a five-day report wherein Laura Randall, wired for sound, came in the abortion clinic and had our doctor saying, yes, baby, you're pregnant. Come on, let's do this abortion today. You haven't had anything to eat, you've got your money, why would you want to come back tomorrow. Come on, let's do it now.

That's bad, but there's worse -- much worse.  If even half of her appalling story is true, it's no wonder that Carol Everett recounts that ultimately she couldn't live with herself.  My own work involves the provision of abortion care, and there's no part of her account with which I can identify; it's sheerly horrifying.  Our diametrically opposed approaches to abortion care might be part of the reason that Ms. Everett claims to have made well over $100,000 a year back in the days when that was real money, while I drive a venerable Honda . . . but I digress.

In addition to her involvement with the Heidi Group, now Ms. Everett profits from talking about the evils of abortion instead.  As Ms. Everett herself writes, "you don't take this lying, cheating, stealing on our income tax woman, and just change her into an angel overnight."  But that, of course, was before she found Jesus.

When asked about its plans for carrying out the state's new mission, the Heidi Group referred questions to Shirley Thompson, president of its proposed partner, the Texas Association of Women's Resource Organization.

Thompson said whoever wins the contract will be prohibited from conducting state-funded religious proselytizing, but that the Legislature set a clear goal of promoting childbirth over abortion.

"You can't evangelize with government funding," Thompson said. "(But) the Legislature saw the same desire to actively promote childbirth. The Heidi Group is already in that area of service and fits what the state was looking for."

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What published reports don't say is that Shirley Thompson is also the director of an Agape Pregnancy Help Center in San Antonio.  Agape's website currently says that they "receive absolutely no funding from state or federal agencies and are therefore unencumbered by the rules and regulations they impose."  Refusing government money has meant that Agape was free to carry out its stated mission: "The Agape Pregnancy Help Center exists to minister to women facing decisions involving pregnancy, to touch each life with the love of Christ and, in the process, save the lives of preborn children."  

Indeed, in thanking Fortress Church for its support of Agape, board chairman Ken Krawczynski - Ms. Thompson's boss -- makes clear that he, along with the church, considers Agape a missionary organization.

The number of clients that are counseled continues to grow. We are seeing a record number of clients virtually every month. And the Lord continues to bless the work of those who serve at the Centers. To this date there have been over 240 clients who have received Christ as their Lord and Savior. So God is using Agape to impact not only the lives of unborn children, but also the mothers and fathers of these unborn babies.

God continues to increase our ability to work for His Kingdom. On July 16th, took possession of a brand new sonogram machine for use in our Downtown Center. ... We will be able to show women the life growing inside of them and make real for them Psalms 139:13. "For thou didst form my inward parts; thou didst weave me in my mother's womb."  ...  Pray that, as [women] see the beauty of God's creation and their privilege to be a part of it, they would see their need for His grace, forgiveness and mercy.

Other crisis pregnancy centers across Texas are likewise supported by local and national church organizations as proselytizing missions, and the work of "Pregnancy Care Ministries" is described by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention as "Community Evangelism."

Reaching those affected by abortion decisions is part of an overall evangelism strategy to train every member in the church to reach every person in the community of the church. An effective evangelism strategy will include numerous ministry-based evangelism and other training approaches.

As part of working "in cooperation with state conventions and associations to assist Southern Baptist churches in reaching and baptizing new believers," the NAMB offers material support and other incentives to CPCs for their cooperation in its mission - such as free training, free Bibles, 50 free evangelistic tracts a month, discounted pregnancy tests -- and a yearly visit from its regional coordinator to make sure that the CPCs maintain their "evangelistic emphasis."  In Texas, 22 CPCs have taken them up on their offer.

The testimony of NAMB-supported CPC director Elaine Hamm makes the mission clear.

I see hundreds of young women each year in similar circumstances. ... They come to us for a variety of reasons--free pregnancy tests and confidential counseling, diapers and baby supplies, maternity clothes, often to talk about abortion. Whatever their reason for coming, we know they are really there because God has entrusted them to us. Last year 106 of them accepted Christ as Savior. Many others recommitted their lives to His Lordship and chose abstinence as a lifestyle. All heard that God loved them and had a plan for their lives.

All across Texas, no matter the particular religious affiliation of a crisis pregnancy center, the mission is the same. In Dallas, the Prestonwood Pregnancy and Family Care Center professes itself a "faith-based organization."  

The Pregnancy Aid Center in Burleson says that the pro-life cause is secondary, as the center "exists primarily to put God on display."  

All Care Net agencies are part of a "Christian ministry assisting and promoting the evangelistic, pro-life work of pregnancy centers in North America." Clients of Care Net of Northwest Houston "earn" the baby care items they need by accumulating "credits" in classes with titles such as Godly Wisdom for Parenting, Biblical Principles for Life, God's Promises, and Walking in God's Forgiveness.  

The Fort Worth Pregnancy Center solicits "Prayer Warriors" who are "ready and willing to fall prostrate before our Creator on behalf of life."  

The Houston Foundation for Life offers pregnant women a two-hour childbirth class followed by an hour of Bible study.  

The Katy Pregnancy Help Center envisions itself as "the leading Christ-centered resource for unplanned pregnancy, post abortion counseling and sexual health education in the Greater West Houston area."

The Pregnancy Care Medical Center of Texoma in Sherman is a "ministry" that says "We exist to share the love of Jesus Christ."  Despite its deceptive name, it provides no medical services, but does offer "a group Bible study called PACE (Post Abortion Counseling and Education)" for "post abortive women" seeking "reconciliation to God."

Pregnancy Assistance Center North in Conroe - the backyard of State Senator Tommy Williams, the originator of the CPC funding initiative - offers post-abortion counseling using the Bible-based Forgiven and Set Free.

Midland's Life Center is yet another "Christian ministry" offering "restoration for healing and recovery."

Care Net in Waco promises its staff volunteers the opportunity to "be the hands and feet of Jesus."

The website of Heartbeat International, with 10 affiliated centers in Texas, features psalms and Isaiah: "He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted...to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor... They will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."

Pregnancy Counseling Services of Abilene promises "information about the ... dangers of abortion" and "Christ-centered counsel."

Care Net Crisis Pregnancy Centers of Amarillo proclaim themselves "an outreach ministry of Jesus Christ through His church ... committed to presenting the gospel in both word and deed to women with crisis pregnancies."

At the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center client services include pregnancy tests and sonograms, along with courses in computer skills and, of course, the Bible.

These are the services to pregnant women that $5,000,000 in public funds will support and expand in Texas over the next two years. The contract remains pending, although a decision from the state is expected very soon.  

In Texas, as in most places, connections matter. The Texas Pregnancy Care Network of Bellville seems to be a largely unknown quantity -- perhaps, some have suggested, only a stalking-horse -- and Real Alternatives is based in Pennsylvania.  However, in addition to her other sterling antiabortion credentials, Carol Everett has such close friends in state government that she was given a seat on the committee that composed over five dozen pages of licensing rules governing (oh, exquisite irony) the practices of abortion providing clinics in Texas.  And Shirley Thompson has been not only a "pro-life" missionary of undisputed zeal, but a member of the State Republican Executive Committee.  So when it comes to who picks up this very full collection plate -- with 15% of the contract, or $750,000, allowed to go directly to the winning vendor -- anyone can guess how the smart money bets.

Nationally, Focus on the Family has made a big business of crisis pregnancy centers, although they've now switched to calling them 'pregnancy resource centers'.  (Language analysis, anyone?)

They provide materials and direct and indirect support ... including equipment.

Many crisis pregnancy centers also getting money under federal abstinence education only programs, marriage counseling programs, and state and federal HIV-AIDs training programs, to say nothing of special discretionary funds and the 'choose life' license plates.

Most appalling, their benign appearance is especially successful - and dangerous - in creating vast new funding streams for the religious right.

When Attorney General Eliot Spitzer tried to look into the funding of some in NY, which were connected to the former heads of Operation Rescue, they swarmed him with complaints and claimed it was religious discrimination.  Even Spitzer, known for being pretty tough, backed down, and has not taken up the matter again.

by cyncooper on Tue Jan 10, 2006 at 03:06:13 AM EST

is to be announced any day now.

Let us pray.

by moiv on Tue Jan 10, 2006 at 01:08:13 AM EST

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by Bruce Wilson on Tue Jan 10, 2006 at 10:11:40 AM EST
Your post is a dramatic - and sad - commentary on one consequence of the Religious Right's attempts to control sexuality. Another consequence of an anti-abortion, abstinence-only approach is the increased spread of STD's. Not sure how to paste in graphics here but this 2002 map of Chlamydia prevalence looks very similar to yours. The health risks of these clinics to women (and men) are frightening.

by Psyche on Tue Jan 10, 2006 at 04:11:48 PM EST
...in that the dominionists' "you will breed at all costs" (for married folk) and "if we give birth control it might encourage them" talk (for nonmarried folk)...could end up increasing the rate of infertility in those states where they are influential.

(For those who aren't aware, chlamydia is a common cause of pelvic inflammatory disease--which can sometimes be silent, and can be a cause of female infertility (essentially a woman's fallopian tubes end up so scarred from chlamydial infections eggs and sperm can't meet--if they do, there is an increased risk of a tubal pregnancy (which never comes to term, is a medically indicated lifesaving reason for surgical abortion, and which can be fatal if an operation is not performed to remove the misemplanted embryo)).  I myself know of a few friends who will likely never be able to bear children without aid of in vitro fertilisation because of silent PID as the result of chlamydia :()

Nearly all those states also have very similar incidences of HIV infection per populace (and especially new adult and adolescent cases of full blown AIDS), as well as syphilis and gonorrhea.  (Syphilis rates being up is especially worrisome as syphilis can have permanent sequelae--including brain, nerve and tissue damage--if untreated.  Syphilis is in fact what Al Capone eventually died of.)

These states are also, notably, very often among the worst states in the nation in regards to prenatal care, have some of the highest rates of preemie births in the US (premature birth is a major risk factor for quite a number of problems, including vision problems, learning problems, etc.), have some of the highest rates for low birth-weight infants (again, a major risk factor for future problems in life), have some of the highest poverty rates for women in the US, have the highest rates of infant mortality in the US as well as child and adolescent deaths, have some of the lowest rates for mammogram screenings (mammograms are recommended for women 50 and over, and earlier for women with certain health conditions), have the lowest rates in the country for women who have had Pap smears (an important screening tool for cervical cancer--of note, dominionists are also trying to fight approval of an HPV vaccine which would essentially render cervical cancer a thing of the past like diptheria and polio), have some of the lowest rates in the country for things like basic dental checkups (and the highest rates of tooth loss as a result of lack of dental care), and in general some of the highest death rates per capita

by dogemperor on Tue Jan 10, 2006 at 05:42:09 PM EST

fabuloulsy well researched piece. I am glad that you are exposing the way that crisis pregnacy centers are not only about opposition to abortion, but are actually religious prostelization centers.


by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jan 10, 2006 at 11:57:21 PM EST

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