$1.6 million Texas women’s health care grant raises questions

A Round Rock-based nonprofit has received one of the state’s largest grants to provide women’s health care even though it doesn’t offer direct health services.

The grant, announced Wednesday, has drawn fire from liberal groups who have questioned the Heidi Group’s qualifications and the anti-abortion advocacy of founder Carol Everett.

“We are surprised to see an award made to an entity before they appear to have any doctors or clinics ready to serve women, and we would be concerned about any awardee that that doesn’t have expertise in providing family planning services specifically,” said Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

The Heidi Group received $1.6 million, the second-highest grant amount among 31 recipients. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is awarding $18 million in grants annually to provide services for the state’s new Healthy Texas Women program, a subsidized health program for poor women to receive family planning, contraception and health screenings among other services. More grants will be awarded later, a spokesman said.

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Everett told the American-Statesman that the nonprofit will dole out the state money to 25 clinics and doctors across 70 counties — more than half of them rural — to provide all the services required of the Healthy Texas Women program.

Everett founded the Heidi Group in 1995. The group ran a clinic for five years in Dallas that provided free prenatal services; it closed in 2009 after funding ran out, she said. The group has also promoted alternatives to abortion.

“The Heidi Group is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping girls and women in unplanned pregnancies make positive, life affirming choices,” according to a 2015 version of the organization’s website, adding, “We believe that abortion is ending the life of a baby and is, therefore, contrary to God’s will.”

Everett has testified numerous times at state hearings in favor of tighter abortion regulations. She says she’s a former abortion provider who left the business in 1983 when she “came to know the love and saving grace of Jesus Christ,” according to an earlier version of the Heidi Group website.

She said she won’t interject her views in carrying out the new state contract.

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“As a woman, I am never going to tell another woman what to tell to do. Our goal is to find out what she wants to do. We want her to have fully informed decision on what she wants to do,” Everett said. “I want to find health care for that woman who can’t afford it. She is the one in my thoughts.”

The recipients announced Wednesday included local health departments, medical schools, hospitals, private nonprofit agencies and community and rural health centers.

Black said that the Heidi Group’s proposal was “one of the most robust of any of those who applied for the grants.”

Everett recently came under scrutiny for suggesting during a fetal tissue disposal hearing that sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, could be transmitted through the sewer system. Everett said Wednesday that her comments were misunderstood.

Heather Busby with the abortion rights group NARAL Pro Choice Texas isn’t buying it.

“The Heidi Group is an anti-abortion organization, it is not a health care provider,” she said. “This contract is especially troubling, given that the organization is run by a person who is so terribly misinformed about public health.”

The state doesn’t allow public funds to go to abortions or abortion referrals. The state kicked out major abortion provider Planned Parenthood from an earlier state’s women’s health program in 2011.

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