Travis County DA asked to investigate anti-abortion group

6:09 p.m Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 Texas News & Politics
During a Texas Department of State Health Services hearing last year, Carol Everett spoke in favor of requiring aborted and miscarried fetuses to be buried or cremated. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A government watchdog group has asked the Travis County district attorney’s office to investigate whether a Round Rock-based anti-abortion group, which was awarded $6.6 million in state contracts, misused taxpayer money.

In the complaint filed Tuesday, Campaign for Accountability, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit examining “misconduct and malfeasance in the anti-choice movement” accuses the Heidi Group of possibly stealing money that was supposed to be spent on health care and family planning services for low-income Texas women.

“What we want to know is what you did with the money,” said Katie O’Connor, legal counsel with the nonprofit. “It just seems like this is not an organization that was prepared to take on the money the state entrusted it with.”

Carol Everett, CEO of the Heidi Group and an outspoken critic of abortions at the Texas Capitol, said some of the money was spent on administrative functions but that most of it went to subcontractors to provide services required by the state contracts, adding that her books are open to investigators. She said she has been unfairly targeted for the state’s anti-abortion stance.

“I think it’s a continuation of the attack because I’m pro-life. If they’re really pro-choice, why isn’t life a choice? Why not evaluate every provider?” Everett said.

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The state awarded the Heidi Group a $5 million contract in January to provide family planning services. A few months prior, the group received a $1.6 million contract to hire subcontractors to provide screenings, well woman exams and contraception, among other services, to low-income women in the state-run Healthy Texas Women program.

The contracts raised the eyebrows of abortion rights supporters who had decried the state for excluding Planned Parenthood from the state women’s health program. At one point, Planned Parenthood was the biggest provider in the program but was kicked out in 2011 because its clinics provide abortions.

“I think the state is finding that Planned Parenthood cannot easily be replaced. Specialized family planning cannot easily be replaced,” O’Connor said.

Among the accusations by Campaign for Accountability:

• At least six of the Heidi Group’s 20 subcontractors aren’t eligible to receive Healthy Texas Women funds.

• The group hasn’t set up a toll-free number to connect prospective clients to the closest clinic nor has it published a list of its subcontractors online, as required by the contract.

• The group’s subcontractors for family planning have acquired waivers from providing a pharmacy on site, which the complaint says doesn’t improve women’s access to health and family planning services.

State officials announced last month they slashed the Heidi Group’s family planning contract to less than $1 million because the group didn’t meet contract goals. The group experienced growing pains in its first year, Everett said.

Everett disputes the accusations:

• Three of the four subcontractors the complaint names are no longer subcontractors for various reasons, including Wise Choices Pregnancy Center in Decatur because it wouldn’t provide contraceptives. She said the complaint is incorrect in stating that another subcontractor, Life Choices Medical Clinic, doesn’t provide women’s health services. Everett said she has 25 providers and is working to add 25 more.

• A toll-free number — 1-877-WOMAN-11 — has been available as early as July, according to the Heidi Group’s Facebook page. It’s not clear whether the group’s website has a list of all subcontractors but it provides a list of pregnancy resource centers.

• The group’s subcontractors have pharmacies within five miles of them, Everett said.

Campaign for Accountability also on Tuesday filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether the Heidi Group’s tax-exempt status should be revoked because of Everett’s lobbying and electioneering efforts. Everett said she’s been prudent in clarifying that she represents herself and not the Heidi Group when she’s participating in such activities.

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