RH Reality check has republished Kathryn Joyce's excellent piece, which originally ran in The Nation, about the coercive tactics used by crisis pregnancy centers -- recipients of tens of millions in federal abstinence-only funds under the Bush administration -- to persuade women not to choose an abortion, and then pressure them to give up their newborns for adoption by suitably "Christian" families.
One of the difficulties in proving that federal dollars were used to unconstitutionally fund a pervasively sectarian program is that many grant recipients perform many different services, some with non-government funds. (If only the hairsplitting attention paid to abortion in health care were paid to how our tax dollars support religious organizations that engage in proselytizing activities.) But even if a federally funded program isn't unconstitutional, Joyce's piece raises alarm bells about whether federal money should go to an organization whose programs are misleading and coercive, especially since funding for one of the organizations she investigated, Bethany Christian Services, continues even in the Obama administration.
Joyce profiled a young woman, Jordan, who had been persuaded not to have an abortion by Bethany, a powerhouse in the crisis pregnancy world with centers in 30 states. After giving birth, Jordan, who had been living throughout her pregnancy with a "shepherding" family, had second thoughts about adoption. Joyce writes:
"My options were to leave the hospital walking, with no money," says Jordan. "Or here's a couple with Pottery Barn furniture. You sacrifice yourself, not knowing it will leave an impact on you and your child for life."
The next morning, Jordan was rushed through signing relinquishment papers by a busy, on-duty nurse serving as notary public. As soon as she'd signed, the couple left with the baby, and Jordan was taken home without being discharged. The shepherding family was celebrating and asked why Jordan wouldn't stop crying. Five days later, she used her last $50 to buy a Greyhound ticket to Greenville, where she struggled for weeks to reach a Bethany post-adoption counselor as her milk came in and she rapidly lost more than fifty pounds in her grief.
When Jordan called Bethany's statewide headquarters one night, her shepherding mother answered, responding coldly to Jordan's lament. "You're the one who spread your legs and got pregnant out of wedlock," she told Jordan. "You have no right to grieve for this baby."
Bush-era abstinence-only funding isn't the only federal funding Bethany has received -- or continues to receive. According to a Department of Health and Human Services database, Bethany received eight federal grants worth over $3 million in 2009, including for abstinence-only education, healthy marriage promotion, and "embryo donation and/or adoption public awareness." And HHS used a Bethany representative on a panel in August for its conference titled "Strong Practices, Bright Promises," about healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood programs.