Update, 5:00 p.m.:
The Texas Comptroller’s office released a modified version of the original Healthy Texas Women contract awards after quietly retracting its original document mid-afternoon. The latter version lists 31, rather than 35, contract recipients, and contains a total award of $15,951,492, leaving the state with roughly $2 million left to award on its $18 million contract. No change was made to the Heidi Group’s contract award between the release of the two documents, but contracts awarded to Community Action Inc. of Central Texas, Stephen F. Austin Community Health Center, University of Texas at Tyler and Hands Together Family Health Center are not listed on the later document.
Update, 3:00 p.m.:
This story was updated to include comment from NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.
An anti-abortion group is set to receive a sizeable funding award through the state’s new $18 million Healthy Texas Women program.
The Heidi Group, a nonprofit founded by abortion provider-turned-anti-abortion activist Carol Everett, will oversee an annual contract of more than $1.6 million in disbursements to 25 providers, mostly serving women living in rural areas, Everett said. The program provides reproductive health care services such as well-woman exams, cancer screenings and contraception to low-income Texans. Of the currently available contracts, only Harris County’s public health department received a larger annual contract award, at over $1.7 million.
A representative for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) told the Observer that the Healthy Texas Women contracts released so far are “not final,” and that there are “more to come.” Of the 35 groups currently listed as Health Texas Women contract awardees, Heidi Group received the second-highest award. According to current award data, the state has just over $1 million left to disburse to bidders.
Everett told the Observer that her group will act as an intermediary between the state and health care providers. She said her group’s contract will predominantly fund direct medical services and that the contract does not cover administrative costs for the Heidi Group, which will coordinate outreach, recruitment, education and training for rural providers under the new program.
HHSC “hasn’t had any real help with that, the health department can’t go out and do that,” said Everett, who described herself as a “pro-lifer” who believes in birth control. The Heidi Group’s award is listed at a San Antonio address for the Life Choices clinic, a crisis pregnancy center that combines anti-abortion messaging and ministerial efforts with the provision of medical services. Life Choices’ website describes part of its mission as being to “minister to women and men facing decisions involving pregnancy and sexual health,” and lists free well-woman exams among its available services.
The executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, which lobbies for abortion rights in Texas, criticized the state’s decision to contract with the Heidi Group.
“Healthy Texas Women funding 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,” said Heather Busby in a statement released Wendesday afternoon. “How are we supposed to feel confident that a group with no medical experience will quickly and effectively meet the healthcare needs of Texans?”
Everett said she intends to serve 50,000 Texas women under the award, focusing on non-urban areas, and emphasized that she is “not making any money out of this.”
Everett also serves on the Women’s Health Advisory Committee, which provides input to the state health commission on the massive retooling of Texas’ reproductive health safety net in the wake of the ouster of Planned Parenthood from state funding awards. Anti-abortion state leaders have spent the last several years funneling public money away from Planned Parenthood, citing a state law that prevents “abortion affiliates” from receiving public funds.
Everett made headlines in early August following her testimony at a Texas Department of State Health Services meeting on new rules about fetal tissue disposal in Texas. There, she asserted that currently allowable means of fetal tissue disposal could result in HIV and other sexually transmitted infections being released into public water supplies, which she later repeated to an Austin Fox affiliate. Her concerns are not echoed by any major medical or public health groups.