Real Alternatives

Real Alternatives is a predominantly taxpayer-funded organization based in Pennsylvania that distributes funds to anti-abortion centers. RA also operates a website that promotes inaccurate, outrageous information about pregnancy, birth control and sex. Real Alternatives is embroiled in scandal after skimming off a portion of state funds for its own corporate benefit.


Summary Extremism Key Players Influence

Summary

Real Alternatives is an anti-abortion organization that does base its operations in alternatives — “alternative facts,” that is.

Real Alternatives (RA) is an anti-abortion organization based in Pennsylvania that manages anti-abortion pregnancy centers. In recent years, RA also began operating in Michigan and Indiana. Real Alternatives — which is almost entirely taxpayer funded — maintains its largest operations in Pennsylvania, where it has been a contractor for the PA Department of Human Services’ “Alternatives to Abortion” program for more than 20 years.

Real Alternatives also operates a website, LoveFacts.org, that promotes inaccurate, outrageous information such as the debunked claim that abortion leads to mental health problems. The site also boasts the absurd claims that abortion “leads to increased murder rates” and that women who obtain abortions are “more prone to abuse future children.”

Following an audit, it became clear that RA misused taxpayer funds to underwrite its national expansion arose. According to the audit, Real Alternatives siphoned at least $500,000 in funds intended to benefit Pennsylvania women to expand its network nationwide. Real Alternatives has also consulted on “alternatives to abortion” programs in 17 other states.

Extremism

Real Alternatives runs LoveFacts.org, a website full of false and hyperbolic claims about abortion, contraception, STIs/STDs and marriage.

Real Alternative’s LoveFacts site claims that abortion “leads to various mental health problems in women…” [LoveFacts, Abortion, accessed 3/22/19]

 

LoveFacts claims that abortion leads to increased murder rates. [LoveFacts, Abortion, accessed 3/22/19]

LoveFacts falsely claims that abortion causes breast cancer in 5% of women. [LoveFacts, Abortion, accessed 3/22/19]

LoveFacts claims that women who obtain abortions are “more prone to abuse future children.” [LoveFacts, Abortion, accessed 3/22/19]

  

LoveFacts claims that hormonal birth control may increase susceptibility to HIV-1 infection. [LoveFacts, STD Roulette, accessed 3/22/19]

LoveFacts Claims that “couples cohabiting before engagement and marriage demonstrate lower marital satisfaction and greater potential for divorce.” [LoveFacts, Howatriskareyou, accessed 3/22/19]

LoveFacts dedicates an entire page to “why contraception is not the answer” — including the claim that hormonal birth control like the pill “may affect mate choice.”

[Lovefacts, “Safer Sex,” accessed 4/9/19]

LoveFacts’ Birth Control page also claims that “teen girls are most vulnerable and negatively impacted by abortion and hormonal contraception.”

 [Lovefacts, “Safer Sex,” accessed 4/9/19]

LoveFacts also claimed that Plan B One-Step “can kill little human beings.”

[Lovefacts, “Plan B” accessed 4/9/19]

Close This Read More

Real Alternatives’ providers must provide abstinence education and do not advise women on birth control.

Real Alternatives’ providers reportedly must “provide abstinence education as the best and only method’ of birth control.” 

“To participate, providers must pledge not to discriminate or charge fees. They must also ‘maintain a pro-life mission’ and ‘provide abstinence education as the best and only method’ of birth control, according to the pact.” [Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 10/4/15]

Salon: “Real Alternatives doesn’t even offer any real help in preventing an unintended pregnancy, as the centers are not allowed to advise women on contraception.”

“Real Alternatives doesn’t even offer any real help in preventing an unintended pregnancy, as the centers are not allowed to advise women on contraception. Instead, its website vaguely alludes to ‘modifying risk-taking behavior,’ which is a conservative euphemism for promoting abstinence, even though research has shown that more than 99 percent of sexually active women use contraception at some point in their lives.” [Salon, 3/21/17]

Close This Read More

Real Alternatives has skimmed off a portion of state funds for its own corporate benefit.

Real Alternatives has been receiving state and federal money since 1997…

Real Alternatives is the umbrella organization behind a chain of anti-abortion centers.

“Real Alternatives is the umbrella organization behind a chain of crisis pregnancy centers, which are set up to lure in women who have an unintended pregnancy so as to dissuade them from choosing abortion. Crisis pregnancy centers generally work by imitating medical clinics, even though they offer little to no medical care, in the hopes that unsuspecting women seeking medical care may be confused over the distinction.” [Salon, 3/21/17] 

Real Alternatives has been receiving state funds in Pennsylvania since 1997 to administer the commonwealth’s abortion-alternatives program…

“In 1997, the state selected Real Alternatives, a Harrisburg-based nonprofit, to administer the abortion-alternatives program. According to Real Alternatives’ agreement with the state, the program provides counseling and support so pregnant women ‘no longer feel compelled to choose abortion out of a sense of helplessness.’  Real Alternatives’ current five-year contract, valued at $30.2 million, expires in 2017. Most of that money is disbursed to 40-some nonprofit service providers, which Real Alternatives monitors and reimburses.” [Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 10/4/15]

Despite having a $24 cap on material assistance and its primary purpose being to talk women out of obtaining abortion care, RA receives money from the Federal Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) program.

“‘According to Real Alternatives’ contract with the state, it reimburses a [subcontracting] center just $2 each time a woman receives food, clothing, or furniture — a maximum of four times,’ Cosmopolitan reported. But there’s ‘a $24 cap for an individual pregnant woman’s material needs.’  This is particularly troubling when one considers that the state money is coming from the budget for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (or TANF). As the name would indicate, that program is supposed to be a welfare program to assist families in need. But unlike Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the New Deal-era program it was created in 1996 to replace, TANF doesn’t necessarily directly give money to needy people. … It’s difficult to consider Real Alternatives an anti-poverty program since its only real goal is to talk women out of having abortions. As the $24 cap on material assistance suggests, direct poverty alleviation is virtually nonexistent.” [Salon, 3/21/17]

… And a state audit revealed that RA siphoned money from Pennsylvania taxpayers by retaining a 3% fee it charges its providers.

… But according to a state audit, Real Alternatives has been retaining 3% of the money it has been telling the state it reimburses to service providers.

“Real Alternatives runs its program with a model similar to insurance companies: It reimburses nonprofits after they provide services. But the recent audit found that Real Alternatives has been retaining 3 percent of the money it has been telling the state it reimburses to service providers — a total of $497,368 from July 2012 to June 2015 — and recommended that the state determine if the fee is appropriate.” [Cosmopolitan, 4/28/16]

When asked how it spent the money siphoned from the state, RA claimed that the funds were “now ‘corporate money,’ and therefore not subject to the audit.”

“When the state auditor asked Real Alternatives how it spends the money it collects from this fee, the organization said some of the money was spent on employee travel but did not allow auditors to analyze its expenses, claiming that the funds are now ‘corporate money,’ and therefore not subject to the audit.” [Cosmopolitan, 4/28/16]

Real Alternatives deposited the 3% fee into its “corporate account” and “admits it does not use the 3% funds for grant purposes and contends the funds are private, corporate funds.”

“RA deducts the 3% fee as an “offset,” deposits the 3% fee into its corporate account, and reimburses the service providers for the scheduled cost of direct services less the 3% fee. DAG requested production of receipts and expenditure documentation related to RA’s spending of the 3% offset payments. RA admits it does not use the 3% funds for grant purposes and contends the funds are private, corporate funds.” [Commonwealth Court Of Pennsylvania, Memorandum Opinion, Real Alternatives v. Pennsylvania Department Of The Auditor General And Department Of Human Services, No. 106 M.D. 2017, 7/3/17] 

According to Real Alternatives’ financial statements, it was also collecting its 3% fee from its providers in Michigan and Indiana — likely siphoning money from those states as well.

[Real Alternatives Financial Statement, 2015-2016]

Close This Read More

Key Players

President & CEO

Kevin Bagatta

Bagatta has been president & CEO of Real Alternatives since its founding in 1996. Prior to founding Real Alternatives, Bagatta was a legal clerk for William Ball at Ball, Skelly, Murren and Connell—the same firm that represented the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and “sent lawyers to help legislators write abortion restrictions.” Bagatta, like other anti-abortion extremists, has compared abortion to the Holocaust and promotes abstinence.

Close This Read More

Vice President

Thomas Lang

Lang has been vice president of Real Alternatives since 2006. Lang has also suggested that abortion is part of a conspiracy theory by big pharma to hide the failures of birth control.

Close This Read More

Chair

Carolyn Astfalk

Astfalk is the chairperson of Real Alternatives —she was priorly the communications director and lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, where she opposed allowing LGBTQ couples to adopt children. Astfalk has also publicly “worried” about “backlash against church officials” who had previously chosen to reassign, instead of dismiss, priests accused of molesting children.

Close This Read More

Influence

Real Alternatives has close ties to Vice President Mike Pence.

As governor of Indiana, Mike Pence granted Real Alternatives a secretive $3.5 million  contract — despite the fact that Real Alternatives was already under investigation in Pennsylvania…

As governor, Mike Pence entered into a contract with Real Alternatives.

“The Indiana State Department of Health is contracting with Pennsylvania-based anti-abortion nonprofit Real Alternatives, Gov. Mike Pence’s office announced Monday.  Real Alternatives provides ‘life-affirming pregnancy and parenting support’ and will partner with local service providers across the state to offer services such as free counseling and referral services.  The one-year, $3.5 million contract is funded with money from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The state first contracted with Real Alternatives in October of last year for a pilot program Pence says was a success.” [Indiana Public Media, 10/13/15]

Mike Pence announced a $3.5 million contract with Real Alternatives on a holiday when state offices were closed, an hour after a local newspaper emailed two state agencies about the previous $1 million contract with Real Alternatives that had not been publicized.

“Gov. Mike Pence on Monday announced a $3.5 million statewide contract with a Pennsylvania anti-abortion group to partner with local pregnancy centers to encourage Hoosier women to choose childbirth. The news dropped on a holiday when state offices were closed, about an hour after The Journal Gazette sent an email to two state agencies seeking information about an earlier one-year, $1 million contract with Real Alternatives that ended Sept. 30. That contract, covering northern Indiana, wasn’t publicized by the Pence administration and might have been a no-bid contract.” [Journal Gazette, 3/15/16]

  • Journal Gazette: the original $1 million Real Alternatives contract “might have been a no-bid contract” and “was not in the public database.”

“That contract, covering northern Indiana, wasn’t publicized by the Pence administration and might have been a no-bid contract. Several emails and phone calls to the governor’s office and other agencies seeking answers to various questions weren’t returned Monday. The new contract also was not in the public database.” [Journal Gazette, 3/15/16]

The Real Alternatives program in Indiana “had to be suspended in 2016 when Real Alternatives was investigated on billing-overcharge claims, a crime it was already under investigation for in Pennsylvania when Pence granted the contract in 2015.”

“The year after the RFRA debacle, Pence continued his social holy war by signing into law House Bill 1337, one of the nation’s most stringent anti-abortion laws. Previously, Pence had allocated $3.5 million to Real Alternatives, a Pennsylvania company running abortion crisis centers, a.k.a. places where a woman goes for medical help and is pressured into carrying her baby to term and given no immediate medical treatment. The program had to be suspended in 2016 when Real Alternatives was investigated on billing-overcharge claims, a crime it was already under investigation for in Pennsylvania when Pence granted the contract in 2015.” [Rolling Stone, 1/23/17]

The president and CEO of Indiana Right To Life, Mike Fichter, was the registered agent on file for Real Alternatives when it received the initial contract with the state…

Mike Fichter, the President And CEO Of Indiana Right To Life was the Registered agent for Real Alternatives but “it is not clear if he is benefiting personally from the contract.”

“Indiana Right to Life representatives declined an interview – referring to a written press release statement. “Real Alternatives offers life-affirming and compassionate care to women throughout pregnancy and as they begin their parenting journey,” said Mike Fichter, President and CEO of Indiana Right to Life. “We have seen positive results from one year of Real Alternatives in Northern Indiana, and we look forward to seeing what the statewide impact of Real Alternatives will look like.” Fichter is the registered agent on file with the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office for Real Alternatives, Inc. It is not clear if he is benefiting personally from the contract.” [Journal Gazette, 3/15/16]

… Which is not surprising, as the Indiana Right to Life PAC has a long-standing relationship with Pence.

2012: Indiana Right to Life PAC endorsed Pence for governor with Fichter saying that Pence would “uphold a culture of life.”

Indiana Right to Life Political Action Committee has endorsed Pence for governor. “Mike Pence demonstrated he is the clear choice to lead Indiana,” said Mike Fichter, Chairman of Indiana Right to Life PAC. “Hoosiers want a governor who shares their values. Mike Pence will boldly stand for those values as he did tonight in the governor’s debate. “As governor, Mike Pence will uphold a culture of life. One way he will do that is by resisting President Obama’s proabortion agenda found in Obamacare from taking effect in Indiana. Mike Pence knows Indiana cannot afford Obamacare, a program that offers taxpayer-funded abortions. Indiana Right to Life PAC is proud to support Mike Pence in his race for governor as our endorsed candidate.” [Politics Indiana, 10/18/12]

Fichter announced Indiana Right To Life PAC’S endorsement of Mike Pence during his first congressional run in 2000.

“Talk radio host Mike Pence (R) on 4/18 received the nod from the IN Right To Life PAC. IN Right to Life exec dir Mike Fichter: “We are confident that Mike Pence will continue the pro-life standard set by Congressman David McIntosh” (release, 4/18). McIntosh is running for governor.” [National Journal’s House Race Hotline, 4/19/00]

Close This Read More

Real Alternatives has spent significant sums of money lobbying Pennsylvania officials.

Real Alternatives spends a significant sum of money lobbying Pennsylvania Officials, Even Though It Has Been Consistently Funded By The State.

Since 2014, Real Alternatives has spent over $70,000 lobbying in the state of Pennsylvania. [Pennsylvania Lobbying Services, accessed 4/11/19]

In 2016, RA spent $19,512 on “direct contact with legislators, their staffs, government officials or a legislative body” — a $19,303 increase in such spending in just one year.  

[Real Alternatives, 2016 Form 990]

[Real Alternatives, 2015 Form 990]

… And in 2018, Real Alternatives hired a federal lobbyist for the first time. 

In May 2018, a federal lobbyist named Lindsey Craig from Sextons Creek registered to lobby on behalf of RA regarding issues of family, abortion and adoption. [Lobbying Registration, accessed via Senate Lobbying Database, 4/6/18] 

Craig previously worked For Real Alternatives ally VP Mike Pence during his time as governor and congressman. [Lindsey Craig, LinkedIn, accessed 4/11/19]

Close This Read More
Scroll Up