Over the past five years, evaluators have found violations at state-funded subcontractors for Texas’ Alternatives to Abortion Services Program, which reimburses nonprofits — typically faith-based groups — to provide mentoring, counseling and material assistance to pregnant women.
But while those site visits were conducted by a contractor for the state, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has never conducted a review of its own during the life of the program, according to an HHSC spokeswoman.
Evaluators from the nonprofit Texas Pregnancy Care Network (TPCN), which conducts the site visits, found at least one violation — not counting billing errors — during more than half of their pre-announced site visits to subcontractors, according to documents obtained by the Texas Independent.
Funding for the Alternatives to Abortion Services Program was upped from $4 million per year to $4.15 million, even while the rest of the state budget was slashed, particularly in the areas of family planning and community mental health services.
Official records show violations ranging from fire safety to possible breaches of client privacy to failure to obtain proper public safety checks. During 15 percent of inspections, subcontractors had failed to separate and label spiritual and educational materials properly. About 22 percent of the time, evaluators found that at least one counselor did not have proper public safety clearance. In total, subcontractors were found committing violations 66 percent of the time during 71 initial site visits. The Texas Independent notes that all but one of the state’s 33 subcontractors has overt religious affiliations.
Conservatives states like Texas have poured money into crisis pregnancy centers in recent years even as they slash funding for family planning centers and try to defund Planned Parenthood. Just this year, Texas lawmakers took $70 million from family planning funding to give to these “abortion alternative” centers. Yet despite receiving government money, these clinics are not subjected to regular inspections like abortion clinics and often avoid any scrutiny of their practices, which blur the line between religious advocacy and medical counseling beyond distinction.
Meanwhile, for several months anti-abortion activists in states like Kansas have been using inspections and codes as a tool to shut down the few remaining abortion clinics by claiming they do not meet rigorous licensing requirements. New laws require abortion clinics to be inspected numerous times each year and adhere to codes that are more stringent than even those required for hospitals.
As the Texas Independent has reported, Texas reimburses “abortion alternative” subcontractors at a higher rate for providing “mentoring” than it pays nurses to provide family planning services or master’s-level mental health professionals to provide crisis counseling. Subcontractors are paid $63 per hour for their counselors, who do not require any formal education or certification.