Good money after bad: NC’s mushrooming appropriations to fake health clinics

This article, written by NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Executive Director Tara Romano, originally appeared in NC Policy Watch  

Soon after I began working at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina in 2016, I found myself explaining to someone our concerns about anti-abortion fake clinics (aka “crisis pregnancy centers”) and the tax dollars they were receiving.

“How much are they getting?”

“$400,000 a year in the 2015-2016 budget.”

“Well, that’s not that much in the scheme of things, is it?”

“It’s going to be more. Just wait.”

And here we are just three years later, looking at a budget that allocates $2.64 million in public tax dollars to these fake clinics, a more than 600% increase. It’s not at all clear what they’ve done to merit such an increase in taxpayer support, either: the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) reported that the proposed recipient of the largest grant of $1.2 million per year, the Texas-based organization known as the Human Coalition, has turned in reports that were both late and that did not explain what, if anything, the outfit has done to improve healthcare outcomes, or even provide actual healthcare or impactful services.

The Human Coalition’s stated mission is “to end abortion in America” and it likes to tout to its supporters the number of “abortion-determined women” (their term) its fake clinics prevented from accessing abortion care – whether by deception, coercion, shaming, or some combination of those tactics.

The organization does not seek to reduce unplanned pregnancy by providing access to contraception or comprehensive sex education; its chief goal is to block, by whatever means, people from making their own informed and autonomous decisions about the reproductive health care options available to them.

Inhibiting people from accessing their right to abortion has always been the central mission of these fake clinics that started popping up across the country in the 1970’s. North Carolina has more than 110 of these outfits, compared to just 15 clinics that offer some type of abortion services.

One challenge for patients seeking abortion care is that genuine abortion clinics are clustered in just a few cities across the state. For the most part, fake clinics are also clustered near population centers: a 2017 NARAL Pro-Choice NC review of these clinics showed 83% of them were located within seven miles of a university or college – a fact that serves to disprove the claims of the supporters that they provide care where no or few clinics exist.

In fact, these fake clinics often locate as close as they can to actual abortion clinics in order to target “abortion-determined” patients headed to their appointments. In Raleigh, that means using close proximity to an abortion clinic to stage protests that harass and intimidate patients coming for an appointment. In Charlotte and Greensboro, that means bringing a bus to the parking lot of local abortion clinics to try to intercept patients on their way to their healthcare appointments.

These fake clinics use your tax dollars to buy ultrasounds so they can provide “limited use” images in order to deceive patients who are seeking actual medical care. More often than not, they do not employ genuine medical professionals as part of their organization, even if their staff members sometimes don medical scrubs and make claims about sexually transmitted infection testing. But it’s not easy to know what they do or how they are run—the fake clinics are secretive, unregulated, unlicensed, and are not subject to HIPAA – the federal law that regulates how private medical information is protected and handled.

Yet politicians are giving these fake clinics increasing amounts of our tax dollars.

Anti-abortion legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly often attempt to justify this controversial appropriation of public funds by pointing out that one can get a free pregnancy test at these fake clinics. But, of course, this is a service that is also provided at local health departments, some abortion clinics, and even some student health centers and hardly enough to justify the diversion of millions of NC DHHS maternal and child health funds.

NARAL Pro-Choice NC has been raising the alarm about these fake health clinics for a decade, knowing that the appropriations of tax dollars will only increase if left unchallenged. We’ve seen it happen in other states. In Ohio, the state budget currently proposes diverting $5 million in federal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds to fake clinics. Anti-abortion fake clinics across the country that promote medically inaccurate abstinence-only sex education are getting $1.5 million in Title X funding. This is all part of their national effort to spread misinformation and make abortion as inaccessible as possible.

For too long, anti-abortion lawmakers have funneled resources for actual healthcare to organizations that do not provide healthcare or evidence-based programs, are deceptive in their advertising, promote false and medically inaccurate ideological statements as fact, and whose stated goals are to convince people who are pregnant not to have abortions.

Tragically, this has been occurring at the same time that legislative leaders refuse to meaningfully address the health coverage gap that afflicts approximately 600,000 North Carolinians by expanding Medicaid. Sending ever-increasing amounts of scarce tax dollars to these fake clinics, while denying people of lower income access to quality, medically accurate, comprehensive healthcare, ensures that more vulnerable pregnant patients will end up in these fake clinics seeking access to care that does not exist.

This is unacceptable, and it’s time to stop sending public funds to these organizations.

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