Pennsylvania Strikes Another Blow Against Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers

The actions to discourage the centers are part of a nationwide struggle over what policies and resources to offer women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Pennsylvania Strikes Another Blow Against Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers
Maternity and infant supplies at Branches Pregnancy Resource Center in Brattleboro, Vt. Pregnancy resource centers typically offer counseling and assistance to pregnant mothers and new parents. (Branches Pregnancy Resource Center)
Beth Brelje
11/28/2023
Updated:
11/28/2023
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Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle A. Henry has issued a consumer advisory warning “pregnant people” seeking an abortion to be sure they do not look for medical services at pregnancy resource centers that do not provide abortions.

While many facilities in Pennsylvania offer various forms of assistance, education, and support to pregnant women, not all of them provide “medical care,” the attorney general’s office notes.

“Many facilities known as crisis pregnancy centers, or pregnancy resource centers, are not staffed by licensed medical professionals and therefore cannot provide medical care,” the Nov. 24 advisory says. “In Pennsylvania, only licensed medical professionals can provide medical care such as diagnostic ultrasounds, pre-natal screening tests, or abortion services.”

The notice advises, “Pregnant people and other consumers” searching for “reproductive health care” to be prepared to ask if the services they seek are provided at the clinic they have contacted.

Pregnancy resource centers provide emotional support, non-medical ultrasound, parenting classes for single mothers and couples, adoption resources, baby clothing, diapers and supplies, guidance for a year or two after the birth of the baby, and post-abortion counseling.

The Attorney General’s office has developed an online form where consumers can report what they believe to be misleading or false information about pregnancy-related resources and services provided in Pennsylvania. Complaints may be made anonymously.

The Epoch Times contacted the Attorney General’s office to ask if there was an incident that prompted the advisory.

This is not the first time Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration has targeted pregnancy resource centers.

In August, Mr. Shapiro, a Democrat, defunded the nonprofit Real Alternatives, which for almost 30 years has administered the life-affirming Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services program for the state, including funding for the state’s nonprofit pregnancy resource centers.

During budget planning, the line item normally planned for Real Alternatives “women’s service programs” was raised from $7.2 million to $9.2 million in the new budget.

Shortly after Mr. Shapiro signed the 2023–2024 budget on July 3, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh announced the state’s contract with Real Alternatives will end by Dec. 31, ending its main funding source.

Real Alternatives refers women to 83 life-affirming pregnancy centers in Pennsylvania, including Catholic charities and social services agencies, pregnancy support centers, and maternity homes. Through these partners, it provides counseling services and pregnancy tests, helps to continue education, and provides adoption resources. It also offers a host of programs for unexpectedly pregnant women and new mothers, including parenting classes, housing resources, diapers, food, furniture, and other services. By design, it doesn’t provide medical services or point women to abortion.

Still Spending

Budgeting for pro-life activities has been a priority in Pennsylvania since the mid-1990s, when then-Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, a pro-life Democrat, added funding to the state budget for a program providing an alternative to abortion services. Real Alternatives has held the contract for more than 27 years and in that time has served nearly 350,000 women, with 1.9 million office visits.

The newly increased budget item, $9.2 million, will still be spent on women’s service programs. The DHS has also published a request for applications (RFA) for women’s service programs.

Through the RFA, the DHS will find a provider to administer regional programs providing “a comprehensive array of essential services that cater directly to the distinctive requirements of women, pregnant women, and new mothers.”

The selected applicant must provide services and information in a manner that “is inclusive and accessible, medically accurate, comprehensive, trauma-informed, nonjudgmental, client-centered, and culturally responsible,” the RFA said. “For purposes of this RFA, comprehensive services shall exclude abortion services.”

The RFA requires applicants with experience providing services that address the unique needs of women, including pregnant and postpartum women, and women seeking testing for sexually transmitted infections.

These are some of the same services that Planned Parenthood says it offers. However, some of the parameters of the RFA are beyond what pregnancy resource centers offer. The winning applicants have not yet been announced.

Replacing State Dollars with Donations

Although the RFA excludes applicants who directly provide abortions, it does not prohibit abortion referrals.

Moreover, some of the language in the RFA—phrases such as “dismantling persistent healthcare barriers” and “broaden health care access”—is similar to that used by the abortion lobby. In one example, a recent Planned Parenthood action sheet encouraged supporters to message Mr. Shapiro urging him to “dismantle unnecessary barriers to abortion care,” to “expand access now,” and to stop funding “harmful and deceptive CPCs” (Crisis Pregnancy Centers).

“The way [the RFA] is written, it clearly allows groups that promote abortion to get funding. And there’s no alternative to abortion language,” Kevin Bagatta, Real Alternatives president and CEO, told The Epoch Times. “In our language, and in the language in the governor’s budget, as well as in the fiscal code that we have followed all these years, it says to promote childbirth rather than abortion to women with an unexpected pregnancy.”

With the contract ending Dec. 31, 2023, Real Alternatives hopes to increase donations so it won’t have to close its doors. “We need $4 million to continue the program through the fiscal year which would end June 30,” Mr. Bagatta said. “That’s a big number, but that’s 200,000 people donating $20 each to us.”

The program is not going to change, he said.

“We’re still going to lower abortion one woman at a time by providing a real alternative, which is support and love through the unexpected pregnancy, and 24 months after the birth of the baby. We’re just going to use different funds.”

The people of Pennsylvania have always supported the program, Mr. Bagatta said. “Now, we’re just going to go directly to them and ask for help.”

Donations may be made at Real Alternatives’ website, he said.

Part of a National Effort to Discredit of Pregnancy Centers

Planned Parenthood leaders met with newly sworn-in Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro on Jan. 19, 2023. Left to right: Sydney Etheredge, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western PA; Dayle Steinberg, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA; Gov. Josh Shapiro; Melissa Reed, CEO Planned Parenthood Keystone; Signe Espinoza, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood PA Advocates. (Courtesy Planned Parenthood)
Planned Parenthood leaders met with newly sworn-in Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro on Jan. 19, 2023. Left to right: Sydney Etheredge, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western PA; Dayle Steinberg, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA; Gov. Josh Shapiro; Melissa Reed, CEO Planned Parenthood Keystone; Signe Espinoza, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood PA Advocates. (Courtesy Planned Parenthood)

Critics of the move to de-emphasize pregnancy resource centers say it is a political move, not a response to a rash of bad experiences at pregnancy resource centers. Discouraging the use of pregnancy resource centers has become a tactic in the power struggle between pro-abortion and pro-lifer forces over what policies to promote to women facing unplanned pregnancies and abortion access, they say.

In August, Pennsylvania Sen. Judy Ward called the move to defund Real Alternatives “sickening” and called out Mr. Shapiro and Dr. Arkoosh for being “willing to sacrifice the needs and desires of so many women at the altar of their far-left social agenda.”

During his first week in office, Mr. Shapiro met in the governor’s office with four high-level Planned Parenthood officials, who described the meeting as working toward “improved access to care” for patients regardless of their financial situation; removing “limitations and hurdles” for providers to offer abortion; holding crisis pregnancy centers “accountable for misinformation” when they are state-funded; and waiving “onerous and unnecessary testing requirements” for clinic patients.

Planned Parenthood has been a regular campaign donor to Mr. Shapiro throughout his political career.

In January, Mr. Shapiro appointed Lindsey Mauldin as deputy chief of staff for Health and Human Services. Ms. Mauldin’s LinkedIn profile reveals almost ten years of experience working at Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin issued the following consumer alert in December 2022: “WARNING: Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) do NOT provide abortion care. CPCs are organizations that seek to prevent people from accessing comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care and contraception,” the New Jersey alert reads.

In 2022, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, vetoed $1.5 million that the Republican-led state legislature had allocated for pregnancy resource centers in the state budget.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) held a press conference in front of Lighthouse Pregnancy Resource Center in Hackensack, New Jersey, on Oct. 6 and claimed the center is “brainwashing” pregnant women because it provides options other than abortion.

“We need to do everything we can do to shut down these brainwashing, cult clinics,” he told reporters. “We need to stop the fake programming they are pushing.”

Mr. Gottheimer said it was part of his effort to promote the Stop Anti-abortion Disinformation (SAD) Act to prevent so-called deceptive advertising about what happens in pregnancy centers.

The SAD Act would direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue rules that prohibit “deceptive or misleading advertising” related to the provision of abortion services; provide the FTC the authority to enforce these rules and collect penalties from organizations in violation; and require a report to Congress on enforcement under the Act.

In some states, pro-lifers have sued over warnings or statutes banning “deceptive advertising” by pregnancy resource centers. In Connecticut, Alliance Defending Freedom ultimately dropped its legal challenge when Connecticut Attorney General William Tong revealed in litigation that he was unaware of any women being deceived by the centers.

In New Jersey, after a coalition of pregnancy resource centers filed a public information request for documentation supporting claims of deceptive marketing, it was told the request could not be fulfilled because no complaints against the centers existed.