The anti-abortion nonprofit set to receive a $1.6 million grant through the state’s new women’s health program plans to dole out funds to an anti-abortion pregnancy counseling center that currently offers no medical services. The group also plans to funnel state funds for the Healthy Texas Women program, which provides contraception and cancer screenings to low-income Texans, to other subcontractors that currently offer services for as few as 14 hours per week, according to contract documents obtained by the Observer.
The Heidi Group was founded by Carol Everett, an anti-abortion activist who worked as a Dallas abortion clinic director in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Everett has co-authored two books detailing her journey from a greedy substandard abortion provider to a religious awakening that turned her against the procedure.
In August, the Observer reported that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission had awarded the Heidi Group the second-highest grant award under the new $18 million Healthy Texas Women program. Everett has said her organization will initially provide educational materials and administrative and billing support, among other non-medical services, to the reproductive health care providers that it plans to recruit.
According to the contract, the Heidi Group plans to dedicate nearly $1.1 million of its $1.6 million grant to hiring full-time physicians’ assistants, nurses and lab technicians to work for the recruited providers, as well as administrative and billing staff for the Heidi Group itself. Everett told the Observer in August that her organization plans to subcontract with 25 medical clinics.
Reproductive rights groups have criticized the state’s decision to award such a sizeable grant to an anti-abortion organization. In a statement last month, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas executive director Heather Busby said that state funds “should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services.”
The state has spent the last few years reconfiguring its reproductive health safety net after lawmakers banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state money. Publicly funded providers must now certify that they do not provide abortion services and that they are not “affiliates” of entities that do.
Most of the Heidi Group’s contractors are located in and around Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. The contract lists one provider each in Amarillo, Laredo and McAllen. The Heidi Group currently lists no contracted providers in Lubbock, Abilene, Midland, Odessa or El Paso, though Everett has told the Observer that she intends for her organization to serve patients in those areas.
“If you look at [Interstate] 35 most of the population is east,” Everett told the Observer in August. “There are lots of carriers over there. I’m trying to serve those women who are not served,” she said, in the Rio Grande Valley and in West Texas.
One of the Healthy Texas Women contractors detailed in the Heidi Group’s grant contract closed in late August; another appears to be a religiously affiliated crisis pregnancy center that does not provide standard reproductive health care; and more than half the providers are expected to more than double their capacity to serve low-income Texans in the next year. Some will need to increase their capacity by tenfold in order to meet the Heidi Group’s projections of patient demand. The Webster Family Care clinic in Webster, southeast of Houston, is projected to see 30 Healthy Texas Women patients per month, up from five per month under the current state-funded program. And the Life Choices Medical Clinic in San Antonio will need to increase its capacity to 120 patients per month, up from 10 under the current state-funded program.
The Heidi Group’s contract award lists only 20 clinics in all. Those clinics include Pflugerville OB/GYN, which shuttered August 25 according to its website. The clinic’s phone has been disconnected. Another of the Heidi Group’s proposed subcontractors, Wise Choices Pregnancy Center, does not offer “annual exams, birth control devices, mid-life services, abortion services or referrals, mammograms or breast screenings, in-vitro fertilization services, pre or post-natal care, treatment of infertility, or treatment of reproductive tract infections,” according to its website.
Life Choices in San Antonio currently provides well-woman exams only once a month. The clinic posts Bible verses and links to anti-abortion films on its Facebook page and was originally founded as an anti-abortion pregnancy center. Life Choices’ executive director Chastity Farrar told the Observer that her clinic’s capacity would increase significantly following the Healthy Texas Women award.
“When we do get the approval we will offer those services,” said Farrar.
A spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the contracts, said the commission is “checking into” the Heidi Group’s plan to award funds to the non-medical Wise Choices pregnancy center. She said the commission is aware that the Pflugerville clinic had closed and that “the contractor is working with a new group.” In terms of clinic capacity, she said, “we are closely monitoring the progress of all contractors to ensure statewide access and their ability to meet the capacities they’ve laid out.”
Everett did not respond to requests for comment as of publication. Examine the Heidi Group’s full state contract here.