Anti-Choice Group Could Be Forced to Show How It’s Spending Millions in Taxpayer Money

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Anti-Choice Group Could Be Forced to Show How It’s Spending Millions in Taxpayer Money

Auditi Guha

Officials from Equity Forward are aiming to shed light on how an anti-choice group has used tens of millions in state funding.

A nonpartisan watchdog group in Pennsylvania is challenging the national trend of siphoning taxpayer money from essential human services to fund the anti-abortion activities of fake clinics.

Equity Forward has filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, asking to access records related to state contracts with Real Alternatives, which received a $32.5 million, five-year grant administering an anti-choice “Alternatives to Abortion” program.

While reproductive health clinics and providers like Planned Parenthood are under scrutiny from Republican legislators, organizations like Real Alternatives, which uses state funds to support anti-abortion counseling centers, avoid public oversight, Equity Forward officials told Rewire.News.

“For too long, Real Alternatives has been allowed to fly under the radar without fully answering to the taxpayers who fund the organization,” Equity Forward Executive Director Mary Alice Carter said in an email. “As far as we can tell, there has not been a formal oversight process of the Real Alternatives program. Real Alternatives leadership routinely put forward only their lobbyist or attorney to the press and do not appear in public forums. The same cannot be said for reproductive health care centers that regularly submit to oversight.”
Pennsylvania is not the only state in which lawmakers are using public funds to deceive people seeking abortion care. A recent Rewire.News analysis found little transparency and limited oversight of the similarly unregulated organizations receiving millions of public dollars across 14 states.

An investigation by Pennsylvania’s auditor general last year found that Real Alternatives had misused state grants by diverting federal tax dollars from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to fund its fake clinics and anti-choice activities outside the state.

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The audit found an estimated $497,368 in misused money between 2012 and 2015.

Real Alternatives, which is 99.9 percent funded by taxpayer dollars, has held state contracts for more than 20 years and received $83 million in public money since 2003. 

Equity Forward fought for months to obtain the records, but both the health department and Real Alternatives refused to turn over documents that should be publicly available, according to a press release from the organization. “Equity Forward is taking action to access Real Alternatives’ records as this anti-abortion organization continues to stonewall all efforts to shed light on their taxpayer-funded operations,” Carter said in the release.

The lawsuit seeks access to records dealing with Real Alternatives’ practice of recouping 3 percent of funds from the local service providers with which it subcontracts, a practice state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale last year called an “egregious violation” of the multimillion dollar grant.

Equity Forward estimates that Real Alternatives has taken $3.19 million in public money through its Program Development & Advancement agreements since July 1997, according to the release.

“In this case, these financial records are a basic public record that may shed light on Real Alternatives’ decades-long practice of hiding their use of public funds, which could top millions of dollars,” said Terry Mutchler, Equity Forward’s transparency counsel.

The lawsuit is an important step to hold publicly funded groups accountable and “take aim at organizations and individuals working to limit access to reproductive health care,” Carter said in the release.