Elizabeth’s New Life Center in Ohio has received federal and state funding for years while running a string of crisis pregnancy centers, or fake clinics, that attempt to trick those seeking abortion care into visiting their office.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Family and Youth Services Bureau, an office within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), awarded $442,019 in funding for fiscal year 2016 to Elizabeth’s New Life Center for “sexual risk avoidance” programs, a rebranding of abstinence-only sex education.
That money was for “the first year of a three year project period,” according to a spokesperson from ACF. The following year, the fake clinic network “received a continuation award in the amount of $442,019 plus $106,084 in supplemental funding to further expand Sexual Risk Avoidance Education services,” the agency spokesperson told Rewire, meaning Elizabeth’s New Life Center received a total of $548,103 for fiscal year 2017. Between fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the organization was awarded $884,038, excluding the aforementioned supplemental award.
Elizabeth’s New Life Center is just one example of the kind of anti-choice organizations funded with federal and state money, despite its deceptive practices and rhetoric.
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Chitra Panjabi, president and CEO of Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), told Rewire in a December phone interview that so-called sexual risk avoidance programs such as the one Elizabeth’s New Life Center receives funding for are just rebranded abstinence-only programs. “It’s still the same shaming, it’s still the same stigmatizing programs, it’s still the same harmful programs in that it withholds live-saving and life-affirming education for young people around their sexuality and their sexual health,” she said.
Though Ohio does not mandate that sexual education be taught, its Board of Education requires schools to cover “venereal disease education,” according to a profile of the state’s policies by SIECUS. That curriculum on sexually-transmitted infections must, according to state code, emphasize that “abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is one hundred percent effective against unwanted pregnancy [and] sexually transmitted disease.” It must focus on adoption as an option for unintended pregnancies and “teach the potential physical, psychological, emotional, and social side effects of participating in sexual activity outside of marriage.”
Elizabeth’s New Life Center is part of “a collaborative effort within the state of Ohio to provide abstinence education to students through in-school programming,” according to the organization’s website. It is the regional coordinator for the “Ohio Adolescent Health Centers” collaborative program and had received four years of funding from the Ohio Department of Health in 2011. A Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion case study on the collaborative notes that it uses “sexual risk avoidance strategies” and is paid for “with federal funding provided through the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant (aka Title V).”
A copy of the curriculum the anti-choice clinic network posted to its website and that is seemingly used in 8th grade classrooms as part of their work with the collaborative shows that the program asks young teens to imagine they were elected president of an impoverished country where a lethal disease is being spread “by having too many sexual partners” and could not be stopped with the use of condoms. “Your job is to come up with a plan that will save your people .… You must not only stop the epidemic but care for the people who are dying and the children left as orphans,” says the worksheet.
The program contains a page comparing condom usage to abstinence that says condoms fail 15 percent of the time with adults. It does not mention in the text that when used correctly, condoms are 99 percent effective. The worksheet suggests that sex may cause “emotional and psychological problems” that cannot be avoided with condoms.
In another section on teen pregnancy, students must fill out a worksheet answering how often teen boys leave teen girls if they become pregnant, and to calculate monthly child support payments. While the written curriculum does not appear to present abortion as an option for pregnant teens, adoption is a prominent feature (as mandated by state code).
Elizabeth’s New Life Center already came under fire for its abstinence-only sex education curriculum in 2009 when Amplify, a project of Advocates for Youth, revealed that the anti-choice organization had hired a clown to go into classrooms as part of its program. According to ThinkProgress, the clown’s act included lines such as, “Having sex before you are married is just like juggling machetes!” and “Sex before marriage will destroy all of your life’s dreams!”
The organization hired Pam Stenzel, a controversial abstinence-only speaker, to address students using funds it was awarded through the federal Community-Based Abstinence Education grant. Stanzel once falsely told students that “condoms, if used properly, provide no protection against herpes and HPV,” according to a 2010 report from the Dayton Daily News.
When asked whether it is common for crisis pregnancy centers to receive federal and state funding for sex education programs, Panjabi told Rewire that “increasingly what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing from our partners on the ground is yes.” She noted that “the ideology is the same behind crisis pregnancy centers [and] behind abstinence-only programs” since they share a “fundamental denial of medically accurate science-based information to people about what they need to make decisions for their health.”
Elizabeth’s New Life Center had received funding through the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood grant program, distributed by the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) housed under the Office of Administration for Children and Families, another division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Another spokesperson for HHS told Rewire that while the center is no longer a grantee through OFA, the “organization was funded during two previous cohorts: 2006-2011, and 2011-2015.”
The organization was lauded by OFA as a “success story” in a post that remains on the federal office’s website, referring to its Marriage Works! program. The post, which was published in 2012 according to the HHS spokesperson, notes that Elizabeth’s New Life Center runs CPCs, or fake clinics. It described the organization as a ”501(c)(3) non-profit organization that includes a network of five pregnancy resource centers in three counties, a prenatal care center, a youth development department, and a marriage support center.”
In addition to its federal funding, the anti-choice organization listed in their annual report that the Ohio Department of Health: Ohio Adolescent Health Centers Collaborative, the Ohio Job & Family Services: Ohio Parenting and Pregnancy Program, and “Choose Life License Plates” were grant funders in 2016.
The organization receives funding from the Ohio Parenting and Pregnancy Program (OPP), according to testimony presented to the Ohio House Finance Committee in April 2017 by Elizabeth’s New Life Center’s director of operations, Rosemary Prier. As anti-choice group Ohio Right to Life explains on their website, that funding allows “discretionary TANF dollars to be allocated to funding the work of life-affirming pregnancy centers across the state.”
Ohio is one of several states exploiting the federal block grant system, which allows states flexibility in disbursing the funds for that program, in order to funnel taxpayer money into anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.
Elizabeth’s New Life Center makes few attempts to cover up its opposition to abortion rights on its website and openly promotes what it deems its “culture of life.” A “quick fact sheet” produced by the organization detailing its work in 2015 claims it stopped more than 2,000 people from receiving abortion care that year. It paints a picture of the deceptive practices it uses in its fake clinics to trick people into entering their offices and deciding against abortion care.
In the final section of the fact sheet is a story about a woman named “Amy” who visited one of its fake clinics. “Amy is what we call a ‘right placer,’ a woman who thinks she’s going to an abortion clinic but ends up in one of our women’s centers instead,” explains the fact sheet, which details how the woman ultimately decided against abortion care.
Why somebody might enter one of Elizabeth’s New Life Center’s clinics under the false impression that it offers abortion services becomes clear upon viewing the “Women’s Center of Ohio” website, which is separate from its parent organization’s site. On its landing page is large bold text that says: “Looking for an abortion? Want to know which option is best for you? We are here to serve you!”
Among the options that one can click for more information are additional pages on the costs of abortion care, information on the “abortion pill,” a “pre-termination consultation,” and alternatives to abortion—all of which note that the clinic can provide ultrasounds to determine length of pregnancy for an abortion and encourage appointments to be scheduled. It isn’t until you click the organization’s “About Us” tab and scroll through a bulleted list of information about the clinics does it note that it does “not offer, recommend or refer for abortions or abortifacients.”
In a feature for anti-choice group Focus on the Family’s magazine, Elizabeth’s New Life Center’ Executive Director Vivian Koob explained that the organization had purposely placed its crisis pregnancy centers near actual abortion providers, noting that patients frequently wandered into nearby buildings by mistake—a tactic often used by fake clinics.
Koob has a long history of anti-choice activism. She and her husband, Steve Koob, were “sidewalk educators,” anti-choice activists who stand outside abortion clinics and approach those trying to enter in an effort to get them to not have an abortion. They founded the Elizabeth’s New Life Center together in 1989.
Steve Koob would go on to start One More Soul, an anti-choice organization dedicated to ending both abortion and the use of contraception, which it claims are “evil.” Vivian Koob discussed her own views on contraception in an April 2014 post to the fake clinic network’s website in which she falsely suggested that hormonal birth control methods were both unreliable and unsafe.
The Elizabeth’s New Life Center director displayed her own extreme position on abortion in 2011 when she spoke out in favor of a radical “heartbeat bill” in Ohio, which would have banned all abortions in the state as soon as heartbeat was detectable in a fetus (as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, ).
The measure was so extreme that many anti-choice groups wouldn’t back it, but Vivian Koob told the Dayton Daily News that the legislation was “marvelous.” In 2016, Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich vetoed another iteration of the legislation.
Representatives of Elizabeth’s New Life Center did not respond to requests from Rewire for an interview by the time of publication.