INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mike Pence on Monday announced a $3.5 million statewide contract with a Pennsylvania anti-abortion group to partner with local pregnancy centers to encourage Hoosier women to choose childbirth.
The news dropped on a holiday when state offices were closed, about an hour after The Journal Gazette sent an email to two state agencies seeking information about an earlier one-year, $1 million contract with Real Alternatives that ended Sept. 30.
That contract, covering northern Indiana, wasn’t publicized by the Pence administration and might have been a no-bid contract.
Several emails and phone calls to the governor’s office and other agencies seeking answers to various questions weren’t returned Monday.
The new contract also was not in the public database.
Pence’s news release said the money for the contract comes from federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services previously approved the use of TANF dollars as an alternative to abortion services programs.
"After seeing the success of the Real Alternatives pilot program in northern Indiana, the importance of expanding the contract statewide became clear," Pence said. The "announcement marks an important step for the health of Hoosier women and families in Indiana, and this additional funding will ensure important organizations across our state can continue supporting those in need."
Pence has long opposed funding for Planned Parenthood, a group that provides women’s health services including abortions.
"Hoosiers are already aware that Governor Pence will put his ideology about health care ahead of their well-being, but today’s contract announcement raises more questions about how the Pence Administration is communicating with Hoosiers on their well-being," said Drew Anderson, spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party.
"Not only are there transparency issues associated with this deal, but the organization uses questionable and partisan research in their assessment of health behaviors. The administration owes taxpayers answers on how their money is being spent."
Real Alternatives is a nonprofit that receives taxpayer funding to provide pregnancy support services – including abstinence classes – in Pennsylvania, Michigan and now Indiana.
The cities that were part of the original $1 million contract that began in October 2014 were Bluffton, Fort Wayne, Gary, South Bend, Bremen, Plymouth, LaPorte, Michigan City, Elkhart, Mishawaka and Indianapolis.
All but two of the providers were locations of a Women’s Care Center, according to the Real Alternatives website. Those centers provide free, confidential counseling, support and education to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
To participate, the service providers must have a pro-life mission. The funding also can’t cover contraceptives.
The original contract said the program "brings resources to existing pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, maternity homes and social service agencies in Indiana so more women can be served and fewer abortions chosen, which aligns with Indiana code ... to promote childbirth rather than abortion."
A news release said the services include counseling for breastfeeding, child care, depression, drug abuse, grief, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, fetal development and more. Examples of referral services include housing, legal, medical health, and mental health.
Over the past year, the Real Alternatives pilot program served 8,452 clients with support services through 16,839 visits, the release said.
According to the original contract, about $166,000 of the money went to salaries and fringe benefits for Real Alternatives staffers. The bulk of the money – about $600,000 – went to client service providers like the Women’s Care Center in Fort Wayne.
Anne Koehl, director of the Women’s Care Center in Fort Wayne, said they provide pregnancy testing, limited ultrasounds and support programs for expectant parents including one-on-one birth preparation classes and group parenting classes.
"We provide counseling and support and talk to them about their options," she said. "We do not provide birth control."
The group has been operating in Fort Wayne since 2004 and is set to open a fourth location in 2016.
In 2015, the Fort Wayne locations have seen 2,100 women who have made 10,000 visits to the center. In addition to classes, the centers have shopping for diapers and clothing. Women receive coupons by "doing positive things for their child" and can use the coupons to buy items.
Koehl did not know about the specifics of any contract with Real Alternatives.
"Real Alternatives offers life-affirming and compassionate care to women throughout pregnancy and as they begin their parenting journey," said Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life. "We have seen positive results from one year of Real Alternatives in Northern Indiana, and we look forward to seeing what the statewide impact of Real Alternatives will look like."