Pro-choice or Anti-abortion, We Should All Agree Women Need Real Healthcare
By: Alice Huling
Last month the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced that as of mid-December, the Heidi Group will no longer receive state contracts to provide health services to low-income women. The Commission also is demanding that the Heidi Group pay the state the $29,431 cost of the investigation, and the Office of the Inspector General is considering whether the group needs to pay back $1.1 million in billed costs. This is long overdue.
The Heidi Group was supposed to provide reproductive health care services to Texas women. Its leader is Carol Everett, a well-known anti-abortion activist. State legislators, intent on defunding Planned Parenthood, claimed they could do so without negatively impacting low-income women. They slashed state spending on family planning and decided to promote “alternative to abortion” healthcare providers. Everett had ties to lawmakers and this, rather than any experience or expertise delivering healthcare services, and combined with her vocal anti-abortion views, won her lucrative state contracts.
My organization, Campaign for Accountability, conducted a six-month investigation of the Heidi Group, uncovering thousands of pages of state records, and discovered an appalling pattern of mismanagement and neglect. CfA found the Heidi Group provided almost no work for its $1.6 million contract through the Healthy Texas Women program, or for its $5.1 million contract through the Family Planning Program. Everett even admitted, according to a voicemail CfA obtained, “No, we don’t look good, and no, we’re not doing what I planned to do, and no, we’re not doing what I wanted to do.” Far from helping tens of thousands of Texas women as required by the contract, the Heidi Group provided services to only a few thousand at best — a tiny fraction of those promised services.
CfA discovered other problems as well. For instance, many of the subcontractors included in the Heidi Group’s original contract appeared ineligible to provide services and the Heidi Group failed to implement and promote a promised toll-free number to connect prospective clients to their closest clinic.
As a result, CfA asked the Travis County district attorney to investigate whether the Heidi Group had misappropriated taxpayer funds. In response, Everett argued CfA had targeted her unfairly because of her anti-abortion stance. She seemed to believe that her anti-abortion views were sufficient to make up for the Heidi Group’s utter failure to provide much needed services.
Finally, Texas has agreed and terminated the Heidi Group’s contract after determining that the group “is unable to meet the standards of a successful contractor.” Hopefully, it is now clear to Texas legislators that those tasked with providing health care services to low-income women need experience and medical know-how, in addition to money, to be effective.
Unfortunately, Texas is not the only state to commit taxpayer funds to anti-abortion groups under the auspices of providing alternative health care for women, and the Heidi Group is not the only alternative to abortion provider to misuse its state funding.
Real Alternatives, another group with which some states contract to provide alternatives to abortion, misused funding in Pennsylvania and, similar to the Heidi Group, failed to serve even half of the women that it was contracted to cover in Michigan. In North Carolina, the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship has spent state funding intended to provide health services to low-income women on religious counseling and materials, leaving some women without actual healthcare.
Positions on abortion are deeply-entrenched and hard to change. But people of good will across the abortion divide should be able to agree on at least two things: healthcare services should be provided by those with the necessary training and experience, and state money appropriated for healthcare services should be spent on providing those services.
Alice C.C. Huling is Counsel at Campaign for Accountability, a nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog group based in Washington, D.C.