Pro-Life Winner of Women's Reproductive Health Grant Draws Ire of Both Sides

“I can't believe the names I've been called today,” said Carol Everett, a longtime pro-lifer and founder of  the Heidi Group.

It had been a long day for Everett, who was being slammed with criticism on both sides of the aisle after accepting a $1.6 million grant from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, pledging to provide women’s reproductive healthcare services through her organization.

“‘An anti-abortion activist,’ ‘an anti-abortion lobbyist,’ ‘an anti-abortion advocate.’ …OKAY,” Everett said exasperatedly, skimming through the headlines that, one by one, subtly pointed out the irony of an outspoken…well…anti-abortion group being awarded money to provide nearly the same type of services that its ideological foe Planned Parenthood provides. One difference: The state’s Healthy Texas Women grant program, which allots $18 million in reproductive healthcare funding per year to providers across the state (as ordered by the Legislature in 2015), prohibits any recipient from providing abortions or abortion referrals — perhaps convenient for the pro-life Heidi Group.

But at this point, after years of sharing her regrets about her own abortion and her bad experience working in the abortion industry, and after pushing to defund Planned Parenthood and supporting restrictive abortion legislation shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court, Everett is used to the criticism and jeering and disparaging remarks from the pro-choice cohorts and “the liberal media.” By four in the afternoon on the day news broke that her organization would be providing family planning services, sexually transmitted disease treatment and —gasp! — birth control to women, Everett seemed just as concerned about the jeering coming from her own cohorts: the pro-life movement.

Like a celebrity reading mean tweets about herself on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Everett scrolled through Twitter, repeating the tweets that seemed to offend her.

“Heidi Group shouldn't sell a woman a bra, much less conduct pap smears or advise people on sexual health,” she reads, with a little less humor than someone like Katy Perry or Will Ferrell.

“So much for the precious unborn, huh?” she reads, interjecting to add, “I never, ever expected this to be happening, honestly.”

The Heidi Group’s $1.6 million in women’s wellness funding is, so far, the second-largest award among more than 30 recipients released on the state comptroller’s website Wednesday — behind only Harris County Public Health’s $1.7 million. Health and Human Services Commission spokesman Bryan Black said in an email that the large award to Everett's team was because “the group's proposal was one of the most robust of any of those who applied for the grants.” Heidi Group’s services will cover more than 60 counties in seven regions, with roughly 20 health clinics, Black said.

Everett, however, was finding it all too troubling that few people appeared to have confidence that the Heidi Group was deserving of the grant. The pro-lifers were angry, she said, that she was straying from the traditional “abstinence is key!” dogma and switching over to the dark side of pre-marital contraception. And the pro-choicers? Completely convinced that Everett and the Heidi Group are biased and therefore incapable of even…er, selling bras.

“I have been doing this work for a long time, and I’ve been beaten up,” Everett told the Houston Press. “I guess — I’m being too honest with you. I guess I never thought about people really questioning my agenda, you know? I really thought they would understand that I was really trying to help women. But that’s not happening.”

How could you blame them, though?

Just last week, Everett testified before the Texas Department of State Health Services that she was in favor of a controversial rule that would mandate burying or cremating aborted fetuses. She said she believes it’s possible that fetal tissue thrown away in “garbage disposals” could end up in the sewage and infect people with HIV and STIs. Yeah, the liberals had a ball with that one. (Everett told us she regrets making the comments and that they were a huge mistake.)

The Heidi Group hasn't actually provided substantial health-care services since 2009, when it shuttered a clinic in Dallas that for several years provided prenatal services and counseling to expecting moms. All the while, the group was never shy about its pro-life mission. In fact, in a 2005 New York Times article about church groups using sonograms to deter women from choosing abortion, Everett is a third-party source who provides survey data (which the Times could not verify) indicating that counseling women to decide against abortion was effective 70 percent of the time, while showing them a sonogram was effective 90 percent of the time.

Counseling will very much be a part of the Heidi Group’s gamut of reproductive health-care services under this grant, counseling for everyone from women going through an unwanted pregnancy crisis to mothers dealing with postpartum depression. And counseling for birth control options.

And if the pro-lifers don’t like that, here is what Carol Everett has to say to them: "I’m just going to tell 'em, I think we have to be realistic. I’m sorry; I just believe that we’ve got to fully serve women, and we have to realize, things have changed. It would perfect if no one chose to have sex outside of marriage. But realistically, they do. Good lord, I’m getting myself deeper every minute.”

And so we gave her a chance, too, to dig herself back out.

Even though providing abortion referrals isn’t even allowed under state law, we asked Everett what she would do if a pregnant woman came to her and was considering abortion — and if you thought she was going to set aside her pro-life beliefs to appease a bunch of skeptical pro-choicers, Everett made it clear her beliefs were not going anywhere as a health-care provider. At least, though, she threw in a caveat.

“If a woman tells me she’s going to have an abortion," she said, "I’m going to share my story. But I’m not going to force her to do anything. My job is not to tell that woman how to live her life. It’s to help her be the best she can be.

"It’s her choice.”

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn