Published September 20, 2021
Since the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act and the Supreme Court’s declining to hear a last-minute challenge to it, abortion advocacy groups have shifted into overdrive to discredit not just the law itself, but those who have worked for its passage. Planned Parenthood went so far as to make public the personal contact information for an employee of Texas Right to Life in court filings about the case.
A Rasmussen Poll showed that more Americans approve of the Texas Heartbeat Act than oppose it, a finding consistent with Americans’ overall discomfort with the extreme permissiveness of our nation’s abortion laws. In fact, the vast majority of Americans have consistently said they support abortion’s legality only in the first three months of pregnancy, or in exceptional cases. The United States is one of only seven countries in the world, including North Korea, China and Cuba, that legally permit elective abortions after five months of pregnancy (the Washington Post affirmed this evaluation of US abortion law with its “elusive Geppetto checkmark.”)
Supporters of legal abortion have long claimed that they are not pro-abortion, but “pro-choice.” On its face, the label suggests equal support for all options presented to a pregnant mother, including parenting and adoption. Yet the debate surrounding the Texas law has featured unyielding pro-choice opposition to a program created to help Texas women level the socioeconomic playing field and choose life for their unborn child, regardless of their age, marital status or employment status. What’s more, Texas Democrats actively sought to defund or even eliminate the program—called the Texas Alternatives to Abortion, or “A2A”—long before the passage of the Heartbeat Bill.
Begun in 2006, A2A started as a modest, $4 million federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) initiative. The Texas legislature has gradually increased its funding each year, expanding available dollars to $100 million in 2021. Program services are now largely coordinated through the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit organization that was the first in the state to earn the “Seal of Excellence” distinction from the national, nonpartisan Standards for Excellence Institute. In addition to the audits performed by Standards for Excellence, the Texas Pregnancy Care Network also undergoes additional scrutiny and annual audits by TANF, as well as with the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.
The Alternatives to Abortion program was not created to be a Medicaid-based health care service. Rather, its primary objective is to provide comprehensive “wraparound” social services to expectant and parenting women, allowing approved agencies to accompany a pregnant mother and her child until that child reaches age three—though some agencies are leveraging private donations to extend that care until age five, when children typically enter kindergarten. Job training and placement, financial independence and budget instruction, life skills, adoption counseling, stress management, child development classes, housing, car seats, diapers, clothing and strollers are all covered by A2A.
Although faith-based organizations—Catholic Charities is among the approved agencies—are not precluded from applying for or participating in A2A, religious proselytizing by any contracting agency is not permitted, and conversations that include faith or religion are only to be engaged in at the initiation of the woman. Religious materials of any kind, from any denomination, are only to be provided or offered at a client’s specific request.
Testimonials from women who have been assisted by A2A are numerous. The John Paul II Life Center in Austin, Texas, an A2A funding recipient, counts more than 2,400 women as its beneficiaries, including “Claire,” who praised the Center’s personal, hands-on help:
My husband got deported to Mexico, I was pregnant with my fourth child, got robbed, and moved three times to find a safe and affordable apartment. I felt hopeless and didn’t want to struggle any longer, abortion was my answer…but JPII’s client advocates changed that. They walked with me every step of the way and provided lots of assistance. Thank you so much, JPII!
And “Sarah,” whose unborn daughter was diagnosed in utero with a serious illness, making her especially vulnerable to pressure to terminate her pregnancy, explained,
I was told I needed to have an abortion because my baby’s organs were growing outside of her body. JPII’s doctors gave me hope and performed fetal surgery. I now have a healthy 3-year-old baby girl!
The stories of women like Claire and Sarah, who are happy with the outcome of their pregnancies and the assistance provided to them through Texas Alternatives, would likely shock The Austin Chronicle, a news outlet which recently referred to life-affirming pregnancy centers as “grifters.” The paper called A2A allocations a reflection of the “warped priorities” of the legislature.
Opponents of pregnancy centers and charitable agencies benefitting from state funding have even created an alternate website using a domain name deceptively close to the one used by the Texas Pregnancy Care Network. The site is an apparent attempt to mislead and confuse women about the types of resources available to them through the A2A, and to disparage the work of the agencies participating in the program (which now number more than 200).
What’s the reason for this opposition? “The pro-abortion political action committees object to the state funding abortion alternatives because the bottom line is that women choose life when they know they have support for their pregnancy and parenting needs,” said Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. “Everything about these centers—and their life-affirming pregnancy services—destroys the narrative that pro-lifers don’t care about the baby and mother after the baby is born. These centers represent our care and concern in action. That is why the legislature continues to increase their support.”
Many constitutional scholars anticipate that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey when it decides the Dobbs v. Jackson case some time next year. Such a decision would return abortion to its proper place—the democratic processes of individual states—and renew focus on the response of the pro-life community to women facing unplanned pregnancies. If the recent experience of the Texas Alternative to Abortion program portends anything, it is that the “lazy slander” against one of the nation’s largest social justice movements—whose sacrificial efforts have bettered the lives of tens of thousands of woman and children—will rear its specious, ugly head in an ever more intense and personal way. Pro-life centers and charities that serve pregnant women will need to prepare themselves, yet not be deterred from their work. Lives—and the truth—are at stake.
Mary FioRito is the Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.