If Democrats were creating a caricature of a Republican extremist–a one-dimensional straw man to run against– it would look a lot like Mike Pence. Unfortunately, Indiana’s zealot Governor isn’t a fabrication by the opposition.
As the IBJ reported yesterday,
Gov. Mike Pence announced Monday that he will expand Indiana’s affiliation with a not-for-profit organization that counsels pregnant women against abortion and pushes abstinence as the only method of birth control.
Indiana Right to Life was reportedly gratified. A Google search confirmed the reason why–not only does “Real Alternatives” (the nonprofit in question) confine its “services” to “counseling” against abortion, it also provides “clients” with the horrifying “facts” about birth control. I found a handy little pamphlet explaining why Contraception Is Not the Answer, filled with misinformation and fear-producing “facts.” (Did you know that injectable contraceptives “drastically increase your risk of invasive breast cancer”? No, and neither do medical experts.)
A blogger in Michigan–where their anti-choice Governor has also contracted with Real Alternatives– detailed the organization’s dubious tactics, many of which were documented in an investigation conducted by a Philadelphia newspaper. The reporter visited a Real Alternative clinic, claiming to be pregnant; she was told that abortion would leave permanent psychological damage, that it often leads to depression, and could interfere with her ever having children– claims thoroughly debunked by reputable medical science.
Groups like Real Alternatives exist throughout the country, mostly funded by anti-abortion organizations like Heartbeat International and individual donations. Real Alternatives, though, is funded almost entirely by the state of Pennsylvania — financed, that is, by you, the taxpayer, and it has received tens of millions of dollars since 1997…
That money, City Paper has found, goes to pay for part of the $199,000 salary (including benefits) of the CEO of Real Alternatives, who has no medical experience. It also funds an army of hundreds of “counselors,” non-medically-qualified personnel whose job it is to dispense the organization’s (sometimes outright inaccurate) information — and who, despite lacking the credentials of nurse practitioners or psychologists, cost the state much more per hour for their services than either.
According to Cosmopolitan magazine, which conducted a year-long investigation of the organization’s operations in Pennsylvania,
Real Alternatives’ contract with the state relies on debunked studies that imply abortion leads to breast cancer and clinical depression. Centers are not allowed to advocate for birth control, much less dispense it. The contract’s directives advise pregnancy-center staff to make an “assessment of the client’s spiritual needs” by asking questions like, “How does your faith impact the choices you make?” (One quarterly report from a center to Real Alternatives refers to clients with the aliases “Mary” and “Joseph.”)
The United Nations Population Fund estimates that one in three deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth could be avoided if all women had access to contraceptive services.
Whatever one’s position on abortion, the use of tax dollars to support “clinics” that offer no medical services— clinics that exist solely to lie to women in order to convince them to forego both abortion and contraception–is immoral.
Our fundamentalist Governor is understandably frantic to mend fences with his Religious Right constituency, after reality and Hoosier businesses forced him to sign the RFRA “fix.” In the echo chamber he inhabits, this contract probably seemed like a good way to do that.
In the rest of the state–even among Republicans– not so much.
John Gregg is looking better all the time.