At least 10 US states have siphoned off millions of dollars in federal block grants, meant to help their families most in need, to pay for the operations of ideological anti-abortion clinics.
These Republican-majority states used money from the Federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tanf) program, better known as social assistance or direct cash assistance, to fund the activities of anti-abortion clinics. associated with the evangelical right. Clinics work to dissuade women from having abortions.
Either way, states have used these funds even as Covid-19 caused the worst economic upheaval in nearly a century, left one in four families without enough to eat, and resulted in massive layoffs that took a toll on them. disproportionate effect on low income and race. Minority Americans.
“They are not replacing Tanf, by any stretch of the imagination,” said Andrea Swartzendruber, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia, whose research has focused on the functioning of pregnancy centers in crisis.
Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas have all used Federal Tanf funds to support anti-abortion clinics .
The revelation must be published in a Equity Forward responsibility group report, which was provided exclusively to the Guardian. Equity Forward produces investigative research on human rights, gender equity, and sexual and reproductive health and justice.
These 10 states funneled the money through “Alternatives to Abortion” programs, which are part of state budgets established by conservative legislatures and are often administered by state health departments. They not only send millions into federal welfare funds, but also state taxpayer dollars to these centers.
The welfare reforms of the Clinton era brought about “a fundamental change in the way cash assistance to families with children with little or no income was funded,” said Ife Floyd, senior policy analyst at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“States have control over these dollars in a way that they didn’t necessarily have before,” Floyd added.
The result has been an increasingly dramatic shift in the way states have spent federal dollars. States, especially in the south, have imposed strict eligibility conditions in debates tainted with racism, and pushed people to forgo benefits even in times of economic turmoil, like the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Like the 2001 book Well-being racism described it, lawmakers developed a “concern to control alleged sexual immorality and the supposed preference of welfare to work for one group: African-American women.”
Missouri is an example of how well-being has withered. In 2015, the state adopted drastic welfare reforms which imposed a 45-month lifetime limit on cash assistance, work requirements and penalties for those who fail to comply.
“We have created a new class of Missourians,” Glenn Koenen, hunger advisor in the left-wing group Empower Missouri, said at the time of the adoption of the reforms. “We have now legislated that some of our neighbors are too poor to get help from poverty reduction programs.”
Between January 1, 2016, when the reform took effect, and April 2021, more than 71% of beneficiaries dropped out of the Missouri program. This included 28,643 children and 16,942 families.
Missouri then spent unpaid family funds on other programs, including the Alternatives to Abortion program. Since 2017, it has sent $ 26 million to anti-abortion clinics, according to state budgets. The average monthly benefit for a Missouri family is $ 256.
The program gained momentum after being pioneer in 2001 by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who also helped shape the welfare reforms of the 1990s which made such state spending possible. That year, Pennsylvania became the first state to divert Tanf funds to anti-abortion clinics and sent $ 1 million to its Alternatives to Abortion program.
The program was then popularized with the help of Real Alternatives, a Pennsylvania-based anti-abortion clinic, whose representatives then “educated” other anti-abortion organizations on how to obtain state funding. .
Conservative states then replicated the program as welfare reform came into the public spotlight, abortion restrictions proved a winning strategy for Republicans, and anti-abortion clinics lobbied for it. more funds. Ohio Right to Life, for example, said he “for follow-up” federal social assistance funds for three consecutive years.
While there is no public accounting of all the federal funds received by anti-abortion clinics over the past two decades, Texas’ vast program highlights the sheer volume of money.
Since 2006, Texas has sent $ 45 million in federal welfare funds at crisis pregnancy centers. Texas has extraordinarily tight income limits for its welfare program – a family of four can’t earn more than $ 231 per month be eligible.
Conservative lawmakers have argued that anti-abortion clinics provide assistance to the needy by helping women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant or in “crisis.” They target young people, low-income people and people of color. Driven by an ideological agenda, they universally oppose abortion and are often affiliated with large evangelical or Catholic networks.
However, many experts have called crisis pregnancy centers “unethical” and deceptive because they present themselves as medical facilities and offer “”medically unnecessary”Ultrasounds. More often than not, medical services do not go beyond testing for sexually transmitted infections.
“I don’t think the problem is the clinics that offer alternatives to abortion,” said former Missouri Rep. Deb Lavender, who introduced a bill in 2017 to prevent Missouri from paying. social assistance funds directly to pregnancy crisis centers. “The problem is, they lie to women and trap women” by omission or misinformation, she said.
Others may encourage women to wait to have an abortion, exaggerate the risk of miscarriage, or make spurious links between abortion and breast cancer, depression and future infertility.
Outside of STI testing, what emergency pregnancy centers most often provide are diapers, wipes, clothing and perhaps car seats, Swartzendruber said. But these items come at a cost.
“People, to get these goods and materials, basically have to earn them with their time and effort – whether it’s watching videos [or] go to Bible studies, ”Swartzendruber said. “A person in need couldn’t expect to show up to an emergency pregnancy center and settle for diapers. They must be earned over time.
State funding flows have also resulted in a dramatic imbalance between the number of anti-abortion clinics and comprehensive reproductive health service providers, which come under almost constant attack.
Today, there are over 2,500 ideologically oriented anti-abortion clinics, compared to just 800 abortion providers. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story, as they are significantly skewed in states hostile to abortion rights.
In some states, the balance is one abortion provider to 15 anti-abortion clinics. In Missouri, this balance is one to 74, as the state worked aggressively to shut down its only remaining abortion clinic, a Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.
Many states have chosen to divert these funds due to chronic budget deficits, protect centers from public scrutiny, and allow contractors to exercise their own control.
In 2017, Oklahoma ranked number one for cuts in education and incarceration for women. Nonetheless, the state chose to continue to divert Tanf funds to crisis pregnancy centers, even in a context of chronic budget deficit.
Advocates have also been stuck in their attempts to understand how crisis pregnancy centers work with state agencies. Missouri tried to charge Equity Forward $ 26,219 for a request for open records for emails.
Often times, crisis pregnancy centers used federal welfare funds and state taxpayer dollars with little oversight. In North Dakota and Oklahoma, the only oversight provision in contracts states that crisis pregnancy centers must be “outcome oriented with positive results.”
Pennsylvania’s Alternatives to Abortion program donated $ 30 million to Real Alternatives solely through state and federal funds from 2012 to 2017. Real Alternatives then used this money to set up pregnancy centers in Michigan, using “Hundreds of thousands of dollars from Pennsylvania taxpayers to fund operations in other states,” Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, said in 2017.
“It is equally outrageous that the state grant agreement is so weak that it has allowed this practice to continue for decades by siphoning funds intended to benefit Pennsylvania women in crisis pregnancy.” said the Auditor General.
Despite the problems encountered by these programs, their popularity continues to grow among conservative lawmakers. Arkansas, Arizona and Iowa have all sought to establish alternative abortion programs in 2021, even amid the economy devastated by the pandemic.