PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) has announced that Pennsylvania’s 30-year contract with ‘Real Alternatives,’ a self-described “life-affirming pregnancy and parenting support service” is coming to an end this year.
With the contract ending by December 31, 2023, DHS will now be soliciting applications for women’s health providers across the state.
“The Shapiro Administration is taking a huge step forward today by ending the Real Alternatives contract after 30 years. Every woman seeking reproductive health care has the right to unbiased, medically accurate care and counsel,” DHS Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh said. “The Department of Human Services has an obligation to ensure our contractors and partners are acting in line with these values and being good stewards of taxpayer resources, and we will not relent on this commitment.”
Real Alternative’s online purpose statement website describes the service as both “life-affirming” and as empowering women to “choose childbirth rather than abortion.”
“Real Alternatives exists to provide life-affirming pregnancy and parenting support services throughout the nation. These compassionate support services empower women to protect their reproductive health, avoid crisis pregnancies, choose childbirth rather than abortion, receive adoption education, and improve parenting skills,” the website says.
The announcement of the ending of this contract came after Gov. Josh Shapiro signed the 2023-2024 budget.
The governor spoke in support of the move.
“For decades, taxpayer dollars have gone to fund Real Alternatives. My Administration will not continue that pattern – we will ensure women in this Commonwealth receive the reproductive health care they deserve,” the governor said. “Pennsylvanians made clear by electing me as Governor that they support a woman’s freedom to choose, and I will be steadfast in defending that right.”
Advocates for reproductive health care like Planned Parenthood are also celebrating the ending of the contract.
“It is a huge win. It is a historical win,” Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates.
This is a move Espinoza says Planned Parenthood has pushed for for decades.
“This has always been fundamentally about trusting people to make decisions about their sexual reproductive health care, and giving them the full range of the spectrum of that care,” Espinoza said.
Historically, DHS says they have been legally required to administer General Assembly funding to programs that provide alternatives to abortion services. Real Alternatives has received this funding since 1995.
Real Alternatives says they received $7.263 million in Pennsylvania General Assembly funds through DHS last year.
According to the Department of Human Services, Real Alternatives works with a network of non-medical providers, including crisis pregnancy centers (also known as pregnancy resource centers). No Pennsylvania state agency currently has licensing oversight of crisis pregnancy centers or how they assist pregnant women, according to DHS.
“We want to make that clear that we are going to stop at nothing until it is incredibly difficult for these organizations to exist,” Espinoza said.
However, Real Alternatives argues that their 83 centers statewide provide real support. The organization said in a statement, “The services that this program provides to the women of Pennsylvania are crucial. Approximately 60% of women who come to our program considering abortion choose to bring their baby to term. Also, 84% of women pressured to abort choose to bring their baby to term. Terminating this program will result in an increase in abortions throughout the Commonwealth.”
Republican lawmakers are also condemning the governor’s decision.
“To do away with this, it is certainly not something that should be celebrated,” Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) said.
Phillips-Hill said she hopes Governor Shapiro will reconsider his decision, arguing that centers Real Alternatives works with provide necessary resources like food, shelter and clothing which can ensure healthy pregnancies.
“We are in a state that struggles with maternal and fetal health outcomes,” she said.
Planned Parenthood acknowledges that struggle, but Espinoza argues Real Alternatives is not the answer.
“These centers are not real health care providers,” she said. “We have a high maternal mortality rate in the state of Pennsylvania, high STI rates and a lot of gaps, and so the only role that I see that crisis pregnancy centers play is exasperating some of those stats.”
Phillips-Hill disagrees, and argues that any help should be supported.
“What is really important here and I think that we can all agree on is providing the types of services and resources that women and their children need,” she said.
Phillips-Hill said Senate Republicans are looking at all possible options to keep this program going.