Lawmaker eyes Texas-based program that funds abortion alternatives

By: - January 31, 2022 2:43 pm

Babies in a hospital nursery. (Photo by Getty Images)

An Iowa state senator said Monday he is working on legislation to create a system similar to a Texas-based pregnancy assistance program that funnels state money through a network of social service agencies that provide alternatives to abortion.

Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, is chairman of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. The panel heard a presentation Monday from the executive director of the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a not-for-profit corporation which has operated in Texas for 16 years.

TPCN was the state of Texas’ original contractor under its Alternatives to Abortion program.

Executive Director John McNamara, meeting with the committee via Zoom, said without the program, Texas’ “heartbeat” bill that bans abortion as early as six weeks after conception would not be possible.

“I think it probably would not have come into effect if it was not for the fact that Texas for 16 years has been providing such ample support and help to pregnant women through this program,” he said. “So it really laid the foundation for the heartbeat bill which is now in place.”

McNamara said the goal of TPCN is to provide support for women facing unplanned pregnancy. He cited studies suggesting that most women who choose abortion are feeling a lack of support in some fashion, for example from a spouse, their family, financial hardship or their workplace. “So the purpose of this program in Texas is to enhance and increase resources available to women facing unplanned pregnancies so that they can feel supported, and become confident and choosing childbirth rather than abortion,” he said.

The organization subcontracts with social service organizations and adoption agencies to provide pregnancy counseling; education; material support such as diapers, clothing and food; and referrals for other services including medical care.

Costello said he has a bill “that I’m kind of working on to maybe look at trying to provide something like this in Iowa,” he said, and offered to work with McNamara on the legislation.

The state of Texas has spent over $125 million to TPCN subcontractors since 2006, McNamara said. In the past six years, state funding has grown from about $5 million a year to $36 million last year, he said. The organization contracts with between 60% and 70% of the state’s pregnancy centers, some of which are faith-based organizations.

The organization is also now operating in Oklahoma and Nebraska, he said.

Democrats raise concerns

Democrats on the committee focused on the organization’s lack of standards to require subcontractors to employ licensed medical staff or to provide clients with information about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases or information and screening for reproductive cancers.

McNamara said the network’s subcontractors can provide that information and some do, but it is not required. Regarding birth control, he said, some faith-based organizations do not want to provide information about birth control “and that is their right not to provide it if they choose not to.”

McNamara said clients of faith-based organizations can choose whether or not to receive religious information as part of the program.

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said she was concerned about state money going to organizations that can use the program to proselytize or provide faith-based information.

“Even though the client has the option to say no, it’s still happening. And if we’re giving them kind of legitimacy of our state dollars and credentialing, that makes me concerned,” she said.

Report: Texas subcontractor’s spending questioned

State payments to one of the TPCN’s subcontractors, A New Life for a New Generation, were suspended in December by the state of Texas after a San Antonio TV station reported on “significant financial irregularities” by the non-profit. New Life has received over $2.5 million in state payments since 2018 and more than $1 million last fiscal year, KSAT TV reported.

KSAT reported that it had obtained financial records showing the organization had spent money for trips to resorts, entertainment and a motorcycle, as well as $25,000 to purchase land later registered to produce industrial hemp. The TV station reported that $2,000 from New Life was used to pay a builder for work done at New Life president and founder Marquica Reed’s side business, R&J CBD Smoke & Vapor Lounge.

Iowa lawmakers did not ask McNamara about New Life or accounting controls in place in the organization. They did, however, ask how subcontractors are reimbursed.

McNamara described an online system that he said was “fairly easy to use” that allows providers to submit demographic information about the client and descriptions of the services provided in order to receive reimbursement.

“All of the services are entered into the system by the person who actually is providing the services themselves,” he said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

MORE FROM AUTHOR