HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Tuesday, funding for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) was the topic of the latest House Appropriations Committee budget hearing. A few hours before the hearing, DHS funding for “crisis pregnancy centers,” was the topic for a call to action by abortion advocates and Democratic lawmakers.
“Crisis pregnancy centers are anti-abortion organizations that seek to target low-income people experiencing unintended pregnancies to prevent their access to contraception and abortion,” said Tara Murtha, Director of Strategic Communications at Women’s Law Project. “The maternal health crisis that we’re in was wholly manufactured by poor policy choices, and they need to be reversed,” she added.
Advocates for abortion access say the centers intentionally work to discourage abortions. Murtha says the state needs to reconsider its funding for them.
“We’re here to call on the Shapiro administration to stop financing anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers with public funds, and particularly with public funds called TANF, which are safety net funds intended to be cash assistance for Pennsylvanians in poverty,” said Murtha. “It’s a poor investment of funds to use public dollars to fund a crisis pregnancy centers scheme that disseminates widespread false medical claims and functions as a barrier to legitimate health care,” she added.
According to Equity Forward, Pennsylvania is one of seven states that provide state and federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars to the centers.
Some Democrats also expressed concern with how the centers operate.
“They’re literally experimenting on women,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks). “They sometimes use unsound medical practices, one that the individuals who are conducting them are not qualified to do, or using medications that are not necessarily being prescribed by a doctor or are even effective,” Schwank added.
“Most of them are affiliated with national and international anti-abortion organizations, which also represents a privacy concern. Because they’re not medical facilities, they don’t have to comply with privacy laws that apply to medical facilities,” said Murtha.
Some pro-life lawmakers, like Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren/Crawford/Forest), say the centers play an important role in offering support for those who are voluntarily considering alternatives, like adoption.
“Not only do they provide support for the mother up to the birth of the child, but they also provide services after the child is born. They’ve played a very supportive role for women who want to keep their children,” said Rapp. “Even if they’re looking to choose abortion, they still want to come in to see what their options are, maybe to get another opinion on what that abortion procedure is going to look like, feel like, and the repercussions of the abortion procedure itself,” she added.
Rapp says funding for the centers resulted from a legislative compromise to allow state dollars for Planned Parenthood nearly three decades ago.
“The tradeoff, whenever it was initially started, was if we are going to fund Planned Parenthood, then we would also fund the Real Alternatives for women who seek to keep their baby, put their baby up for adoption,” said Rapp.
From Sep. 20, 2022 through June 30 of this year, the Commonwealth’s contract with Real Alternatives, through the Dept. of Human Services, was $7,263,000.00.
In the DHS budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, there is over 6.2 million dollars for the centers, or “women’s service programs,” and another one million federal TANF dollars, which are also distributed by the department. DHS is required to provide the funds by law.