State contract with pregnancy counseling service criticized

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INDIANAPOLIS (October 12, 2015) - A non-profit organization has been awarded a $3.5 million contract from the state of Indiana, as part of a new deal announced Monday by the governor’s office.

The contract is with a group called Real Alternatives, which had already been working a pilot program with the state. Still, critics say the group merely counsels women against having an abortion, and doesn’t paint a full picture of the options that might be available.

The organization partners with local service providers to offer free counseling and referral services for women, according to the governor’s office.

“After seeing the success of the Real Alternatives pilot program in northern Indiana, the importance of expanding the contract statewide became clear,” said Governor Pence. “Today’s announcement marks an important step for the health of Hoosier women and families in Indiana, and this additional funding will ensure important organizations across our state can continue supporting those in need.”

But other organizations, like Planned Parenthood, question the group’s methods.

“My understanding is that they don’t offer all options, and that the discussion is all about parenting or adoption,” said Betty Cockrum with Planned Parenthood of Indiana. “Those are two very important features and parts of the conversation, but at the same time there are real reasons why women should understand how to access a safe abortion in the state of Indiana.”

Cockrum said she felt her organization has been targeted politically, ever since the controversial out-of-state videos dealing with the sale of fetal tissue, a practice that investigators found did not take place here in Indiana.

“I think it’s a given that there’s a lot of politics around our mission at this point in time maybe more so than ever,” said Cockrum. “I understand the governor’s interest in supporting women who are wishing to pursue pregnancies and that he feels there’s been a success with that outreach in the first year my wish would be that we could help invest in helping women plan their pregnancies in the first place.”

State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said he also had concerns about the contract.

“Who does like abortion, okay? But we have to be honest with people,” said DeLaney. “And honest especially about family planning which I thought was not controversial… This organization will not advise about birth control, instead will only recommend abstinence. So it’s very strange. I hope the governor can explain what success it’s had and why we need to add this to the list of services available to people.”

The communications director for the Indiana Democrats also issued a statement Monday, saying:

“Hoosiers are already aware that Governor Pence will put his ideology about health care ahead of their well-being, but today’s contract announcement raises more questions about the Pence Administration’s real agenda. Not only are there transparency issues associated with this deal, but the organization uses questionable and partisan research in their assessment of health behaviors. The Administration owes taxpayers answers on how their money is being spent.”

However, the director of Indiana Right to Life applauded the governor’s efforts, in a statement posted on the group’s web site.

“Real Alternatives offers life-affirming and compassionate care to women throughout pregnancy and as they begin their parenting journey,” said Mike Fichter, President and CEO of Indiana Right to Life. “We have seen positive results from one year of Real Alternatives in Northern Indiana, and we look forward to seeing what the statewide impact of Real Alternatives will look like. We thank Gov. Mike Pence for expanding Real Alternatives throughout the state.”

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