Real Alternatives or Real B.S.?

By Shireen Shakouri
Re-posted with permission from ReproAction

Original post here


I’ve talked about how anti-abortion fake clinics receive taxpayer money to manipulate and shame women seeking abortions. I’ve also listed alternatives to Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) for people in need of real, unbiased help with their pregnancies and aftercare. But the harms of fake clinics don’t stop with pregnant people.

Yes, you’ve been affected by one fake clinic network even if you’ve never been through their doors or even been pregnant – well, they’d probably describe you as pre-pregnant, as we know the goal of many “pro-lifers” is to make sure all sex has the consequence of conception and all women become mothers.

Many of us were outraged by the administration’s rule making it easier for employers to opt out of the no-cost birth control benefit, which is part of the Affordable Care Act and still, for now at least, the law of the land. Did you know, though, that the expansion of the religious exemption to include “sincerely held moral convictions” is in part the result of one cranky group of anti-abortion fake clinics not getting its way in court?

Real Alternatives is an organization that claims to provide crisis pregnancy “counseling” and “education” and subcontracts with fake clinics in multiple states. It is not technically a religious group, but wants to be treated like one just so it can deny its employees the birth control coverage they had been entitled to under the law. They lost their case to do just that in federal appeals court this August, but Trump conveniently stepped in this October to expand the contraception rule, which would exempt any workplace that doesn’t want to provide birth control coverage in their employee health plans, all because Real Alternatives and one other anti-abortion-but-not-technically-religious organization – March for Life – wanted to deny contraceptives to their employees. [1]

Another shady coincidence: When Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, he diverted $3.5 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars (sometimes called welfare) to Real Alternatives in 2015, plus $1 million in state funds the year before. Meanwhile in Michigan, state government reporters noticed that their legislature funneled $800,000 to the organization in the fiscal year beginning in 2014, despite its failure to fulfill the terms of the state contract: Real Alternatives had not seen a single client or signed up a care provider in Michigan in its first 8 months of the contract. [2] What on Earth were they were doing with that $800k?

Real Alternatives’ misuse of TANF funding (what has been uncovered, at least) is probably the most egregious in their home state of Pennsylvania. According to a recently published audit – and Real Alternatives had sued the state to prevent such audits from happening [3] – between fiscal years 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 alone, Real Alternatives collected $497,368 that the organization admitted was collected to promote their business outside of the state, rather than provide direct services in Pennsylvania, as is expected from state-level Department of Health contracts with in-state providers. According to Pennsylvania’s Auditor General, they have been doing this since they started out in 1997, meaning the total they’ve taken from Pennsylvania taxpayers is actually much higher. [4, 5] The state’s five-year, $30.2 million dollar state grant for Real Alternatives was set to expire on June 30 of this year, but it was extended indefinitely, and the state said it has no plans to discontinue their relationship with Real Alternatives despite this blatant grift, claiming Real Alternatives was, “the only viable vendor for this type of service.” [6]

Here’s the thing about this “service,” though: As of mid-2016 Real Alternatives oversaw 93 sites and partnered with 29 organizations. According to Cosmopolitanthey allot a maximum of just $24 worth of material assistance per pregnant woman who visits. Their contract encourages staff members to ask about women’s spiritual lives in their efforts to dissuade women from obtaining abortions, and cites debunked studies linking abortion to risk of breast cancer and depression. [7]

Fake clinics using and abusing taxpayer money is bad enough, but misusing millions intended to feed hungry children while giving women in crisis the monetary equivalent of a couple movie tickets and a dose of faith-tinged stigmatization is disgraceful, and certainly cannot be termed “pro-life.” Maybe we should find an alternative to stealing money from needy families so a company can spread its tentacles into other states to deceive and shame more pregnant women and strip others of contraceptive coverage?


Keeping that momentum going!

Holy moly! So. many. people. turned out during the #ExposeFakeClinics October Week of Action! More than ONE HUNDRED groups on college campuses across the country signed up to lead creative direct actions at fake clinics, and incredible activists in more than SEVENTY towns and cities in THIRTY-SIX states signed up to lead fake clinic Review-A-Thons to call out CPCs online.

The 1 in 3 Campaign even sent these super cool banners to all of the campuses for their actions: 

Lehman College Feminists kicking ass and taking names in the Bronx, NY.

Lehman College Feminists kicking ass and taking names in the Bronx, NY.

Members of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley chapter of URGE don't mess around. They've even been organizing with a petition to their governor to defund CPCs. Heck yes.

Members of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley chapter of URGE don't mess around. They've even been organizing with a petition to their governor to defund CPCs. Heck yes.

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And off campus, Lady Parts Justice dedicated their annual V to Shining V Week of Action entirely to #ExposeFakeClinics, resulting in nearly 1,000 CPC reviews

NYC turned its Review-A-Thon into a team competition, leading to 148 reviews written—covering ALL of the CPCs in New York State!

NYC turned its Review-A-Thon into a team competition, leading to 148 reviews written—covering ALL of the CPCs in New York State!

Feminist Flag Corps in Columbus, Ohio had fun with Eunice P. Justice, America's uterus, while they reviewed fake clinics online.

Feminist Flag Corps in Columbus, Ohio had fun with Eunice P. Justice, America's uterus, while they reviewed fake clinics online.

The week closed out with some very exciting news out of Hartford, CT. Thanks to the tireless work of advocates at NARAL Pro-Choice CT and the Hartford GYN Center, a citywide ordinance was introduced that will require CPCs to disclose whether staff members have medical licenses, AND it would ban them from engaging in false or deceptive advertising practices. BAM! 

We'll keep you updated on their efforts right here. Keep up the incredible work! 


Campaign Kickoff Recap!

The antis are on the defensive, and it feels so good.

The Summer 2017 Week of Action to kick off the #ExposeFakeClinics campaign was a huge success thanks to the more than 40 badass organizations and providers across the country who signed on and came out for direct actions, reviewed CPCs online, and upvoted the heck out of the new reviews. Our hilarious video has now been viewed over 50 thousand times, and we're so excited to be reaching people who have never even heard of a CPC before. We're making an impact, and the CPCs are. not. happy. 

Over the summer, partners like ReproAction, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and Connecticut, and Feminist Flag Corps organized more than ten direct actions in front of CPCs and in their communities, and we got great coverage from press like Bustle and The Cut to the Missouri Times and Dan Savage himself. And our team was quick to clap back at NPR's "coverage" too. 

We’re NEVER gonna stop. Many of our partners have been calling out CPCs for a long time, and #ExposeFakeClinics will continue to be an active hub for news and resources for the CPC #resistance across the USA. 

Stay tuned for another Week of Action coming this fall! 

And make sure to follow the campaign on Instagram & Facebook, and keep tagging your reviews and actions with #ExposeFakeClinics so we can keep on upvoting

xx Lady Parts Justice League + Abortion Access Hackathon + Team #EFC

What NPR Missed...

Today marks the 9th day of the #ExposeFakeClinics nationwide campaign to write honest, real reviews of crisis pregnancy centers. Created by Lady Parts Justice League and the Abortion Access Hackathon, over forty medical clinics, reproductive health advocacy groups, and volunteer groups have invited the public to call crisis pregnancy centers nationwide for help with pregnancy options, then write an accurate review of the experience. Crisis pregnancy centers appear to support all pregnancy options publicly, while privately being known as anti-abortion advocacy groups and clinic protesters.

Image created by #ShoutYourAbortion for #ExposeFakeClinics

Image created by #ShoutYourAbortion for #ExposeFakeClinics

Yesterday, bastion of public radio, All Things Considered, published a report titled “How Crisis Pregnancy Center Clients Rely on Medicaid.” Medicaid has been a hot topic discussion as our Republican legislature beats the dead horse of Affordable Care Act repeal. It does seem more than coincidental that NPR writer Sarah McCammon has chosen this week, of all weeks, to spotlight Crisis Pregnancy Centers in her Medicaid story, as Rewire, Bitch, Bust, and Bustle have already covered our #ExposeFakeClinics campaign.

We tried giving McCammon the benefit of the doubt - as a journalist, she is presenting the facts and letting her readers decide, right? Well, let us talk about the facts she did not consider.

In a story about pregnancy options and Medicaid, why not speak about All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center? Providing services in the same town as The Hannah Center, All-Options offers “open-hearted support for all...experiences with pregnancy, parenting, abortion, and adoption.” They also offer free pregnancy tests, diaper support, and referrals to ministries, food banks, and housing support, as well as a nationwide free help line. Where The Hannah Center and All-Options differ, however, is that All-Options does not blatantly attempt to dissuade their clients from considering abortion or counsel against abortion procedures.

In a story about pregnancy options and Medicaid, would it not be relevant to report that the vast majority of crisis pregnancy centers are unregulated facilities? These centers provide counseling on pregnancy, abortion, adoptions, but they do not abide by HIPAA (the act that protects your healthcare privacy), and they regularly do not have doctors or any other sort of medical personnel on staff.

In fact, some communities have taken legal action. King County (Seattle), Washington requires limited service pregnancy centers to post a notice stating, “This facility is not a health care facility.” The ordinance mandates the notice appear in large font, in ten languages, onsite and in the pregnancy center’s advertising. New York City CPCs are required to inform clients whether or not there is a licensed medical provider on staff. The city of San Francisco, by law, restricts CPCs from advertising for services they do not provide, like abortion. California state law requires all CPC’s to disclose on their website and in-clinic if they are not a licensed medical provider, and must post the state phone number for free reproductive care.

Throughout this past week, clinics have shared the daily harassment their clients face from neighboring crisis pregnancy centers on social media, with #ExposeFakeClinics hashtag. For example, McAllen Pregnancy Center staff dress as nurses and try to steer abortion patients to their anti-abortion counseling center.

Created by #ShoutYourAbortion for #ExposeFakeClinics

Created by #ShoutYourAbortion for #ExposeFakeClinics

No, it does not appear as though McCammon has considered all the facts. She has considered that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) report that “uninsured women have higher rates of pregnancy complications.” She has not considered that ACOG also recognizes CPCs provide a significant public health risk to pregnant people accessing comprehensive care from trained medical professionals.

Instead, it appears McCammon has taken a play out of the CPC guidebook by offering a very limited and deceptive view of what CPCs actually offer. I encourage her to pull back her blinders and reveal the entire view of the landscape of reproductive health care. Offices that provide all options for pregnant people are becoming increasingly at risk of losing their funding due to the political activity of the CPC community. In 2013, 34 states funded these deceptive organizations, while denying funding for clinics that provide actual medical services. In fact, some states take money from programs for needy families, and fund CPC’s. To congratulate CPCs for “helping pregnant women” is to deny the work of real professionals offering people health care and complete control over their own reproduction.

CPCs are based on deception and half-truths, much like McCammon’s article. If you want the whole truth, visit There you will find testimonials from doctors who treat people denied help at CPCs, people with wanted pregnancies that became jeopardized by the inexperience of CPC volunteers, and the origins of crisis pregnancy centers. While their methods differ, one thing among crisis pregnancy centers is universal - their attempts to control our reproduction. 

- The Abortion Access Hackathon & Lady Parts Justice League