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August 04, 2023

Pennsylvania ends state funding of anti-abortion group Real Alternatives

The Harrisburg-based nonprofit supports crisis pregnancy centers, which have been accused of misleading and misinforming patients about reproductive health care

Government Abortion
Real Alternatives defunded @RealAlternatives/Facebook

Real Alternatives supports crisis pregnancy centers, which are known to spread false or misleading information about abortion. At the end of 2023, Pennsylvania will stop funding the organization, ending a 30-year agreement. This photo shows a display inside a Real Alternatives office.

Pennsylvania is ending the state's 30-year contract with Real Alternatives, an anti-abortion nonprofit that administers "pregnancy and parenting support services" through the state budget.

Real Alternatives promotes childbirth and adoption over abortion, and partners with various crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and social service groups with similar views. That includes the Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which is the only approved Real Alternatives counselor in the city.

After years of scrutiny, the state will let its contract with the Harrisburg-based group expire on Dec. 31. Real Alternatives began receiving state funding in the 1990s during Gov. Robert Casey's administration, and between 2012 and 2017, the state disbursed than $30 million to the organization, PennCapital-Star found in an examination of state records.

Dr. Val Arkoosh, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Huma Services, cited the need for "unbiased, medically accurate care and counsel" in a statement Thursday.

"For decades, taxpayer dollars have gone to fund Real Alternatives. My administration will not continue that pattern – we will ensure women in this Commonwealth receive the reproductive health care they deserve," Gov. Josh Shapiro added. "Pennsylvanians made clear by electing me as Governor that they support a woman’s freedom to choose, and I will be steadfast in defending that right."

The Pennsylvania government's funding of Real Alternatives has long been criticized by abortion-rights advocates, feminist groups and public health officials — largely due to the nonprofit's support of crisis pregnancy centers. These facilities "represent themselves as legitimate reproductive health care clinics" but "actually aim to dissuade people from accessing certain types of reproductive health care, including abortion care and even contraceptive options," according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Their staffs often are not medical professionals, and extensive reporting suggests they lie to their patients about abortion side effects to dissuade them from seeking the procedure.

Critics have also protested the use of money earmarked for low-income families to fund Real Alternatives. Pennsylvania is one of nine states to divert Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to anti-abortion groups; the state has spent $1 million in TANF money on Real Alternatives each year since 2001.

Real Alternatives also ran afoul of the Pennsylvania auditor general in 2017, when the group filed a lawsuit to avoid disclosing its expenditures. "The idea that any organization receiving public funds would hide behind the courts to keep taxpayers in the dark makes my blood boil,” Eugene DePasquale, the former auditor general, said at the time.

A 2021 study by the Women's Law Project found that roughly 17% of Pennsylvania's crisis pregnancy centers were funded by Real Alternatives, and that 63% of them made false or biased medical claims.

Real Alternatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

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