Texas Takes Millions From Low-Income Families to Give to Anti-Choice ‘Virtual’ Clinic

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Texas Takes Millions From Low-Income Families to Give to Anti-Choice ‘Virtual’ Clinic

Teddy Wilson

The anti-choice group promises to use the $8 million in taxpayer funds to target Texas women "most likely to obtain an abortion.”

Texas state officials have quietly awarded more than $8 million to an anti-choice organization operating a network of clinics that use anti-choice propaganda to dissuade people from seeking abortion care. Part of the funding comes at the expense of government assistance for low-income families. 

Human Coalition, an anti-choice organization with a history of deploying deceptive tactics against those seeking abortion services, operates six clinics and two mobile clinics in four states, as well as a call center that refers clients to a network of more than 30 anti-choice clinics throughout the country. The organization, whose members have written opinion pieces for the New York Times, is one of many anti-choice groups that uses online searches to trick people looking for abortion care and other reproductive services.

The coalition will use the state funds to target those “most likely to obtain an abortion,” according to state documents. 

Our mission is to make abortion unthinkable and unavailable,” Brian Fisher, co-founder and president of Human Coalition, told the National Catholic Register last year. He said the organization was exploring whether government funding would be available to cover the cost of expanding the organization’s network.

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Fisher’s wish has been granted by state officials. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) on May 31 approved a $8,078,235 contract with Human Coalition to “expand services” and “increase the effectiveness” of the state’s Alternatives to Abortion (A2A) program.

The grant contract is funded by diverting $3 million from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a federal program that provides cash assistance for families with low incomes. Texans can qualify for TANF if they are a resident of the state, are pregnant or responsible for a child under 18, and are either low-income or unemployed. 

The grant contract requires that Human Coalition provide services to more than 21,148 clients, but most of these clients will never set foot in a clinic. The majority of Human Coalition’s clients will be served through the organization’s “border-to-border virtual women’s care clinic,” where call center staff deliver services via teleconference and video conference.

“The work outlined in this proposal will play a critical role in furthering the program’s goal of reducing abortion because, through its targeted outreach strategies, Human Coalition reaches an underserved group of Texas women—those who are most likely to obtain an abortion.”

Human Coalition intends to provide “abortion decision counseling” that includes “neutral, non-manipulative information on different abortion procedures, risks, and possible side effects,” according to 455 pages of documents obtained by Rewire.News through a public records request.

Blake Rocap, interim director and legislative counsel at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told Rewire.News that the HHSC has missed an opportunity to provide comprehensive reproductive health-care services to people across Texas. 

“The fake women’s health centers that the Human Coalition promises to expand in its contract exist for the primary purpose of preventing Texans from getting an abortion,” Rocap said. “There is nothing in Human Coalition’s operations to indicate that this non-medical organization is qualified to provide comprehensive health care or social work services to Texas families in need.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in June 2017 signed an appropriations bill that increased the funding for A2A. The GOP-held legislature approved an budget amendment that allocated an additional $20 million for the program, which brought the total biannual funding for A2A to $38.3 million.

The A2A program is administered by the HHSC, which contracts with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network to distribute the program’s funds to qualified groups. Organizations that provide abortion care, refer clients to abortion providers, or “promote elective abortions,” are not eligible to receive A2A funding.

HHSC in March sought to expand the A2A program with a “focus on continuity of care for healthy birth outcomes for women and children.” Texas has among the highest rates of maternal mortality in the country, and the infant mortality rate is disproportionately high among marginalized populations.

As part of this expansion, the agency awarded the first of possibly five grants to the Plano-based Human Coalition. The grant contract period began on June 1, 2018, and extends through August 31, 2019. The grant includes an option for HHSC to renew the grant for up to two addition two-year terms.

The organization has one physical clinic in Texas, and plans to open one more in the next six months. Human Coalition’s Grapevine Women’s Care Clinic, previously known as Real Choices Pregnancy Resource Center, offers decision counseling, post-abortive counseling, pregnancy tests, limited ultrasound, material assistance, and community referrals.

Dan Quinn, communications director at the Texas Freedom Network, told Rewire.News that the state should not be awarding grants to organizations that don’t provide the full scope of reproductive health care.

“It’s bad enough that the legislature has made it harder and harder for low-income Texans to get even the basic reproductive health care they need, like birth control and well-woman exams,” Quinn said. “It’s even worse that the state pours millions of taxpayer dollars into politically connected groups that exist solely to shame and stigmatize women who seek an abortion.”