Headed by longtime anti-abortion activist and speaker Carol Everett, the Heidi Group switched focus away from counseling pregnant women about alternatives to abortion last year to instead offer comprehensive family planning services, a transition ignited by a $1.6 million grant from the state's Healthy Texas Women program. The contract immediately drew a controversy, given the anti-abortion organization was now tasked with essentially replacing Planned Parenthood in all services but abortion. Planned Parenthood was cut off from state grant funds in 2011 and Texas had been looking for a way to fill the void and build a model other red states could mimic.
Which may be easier said than done.
The Heidi Group's goal was to subcontract with 20 smaller providers across the state who were supposed to increase low-income women and men's access to these health services. In January, the Heidi Group also received $5.1 million to go toward family planning services for this purpose.
But now, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is rescinding $4.1 million of that funding after the Heidi Group did not meet its own goals, as the Associated Press first reported.
"They didn't reach their own targets during this first year of ramp up," HHSC spokeswoman Carrie Williams told the Houston Press in an email. "We're adjusting the amounts to make sure we're maximizing services for women."
The Heidi Group projected to serve nearly 18,000 low-income women over the year but Williams said the new goal is roughly 3,500. She declined to say how many women have actually been helped by the Heidi Group and its subcontractors thus far, saying the data is incomplete and claims are still being processed.
Heidi Group CEO Carol Everett contacted the Press by phone but declined to take any questions or comment beyond a prepared statement she read to us: "The Heidi Group is delighted that all funds will be used to serve women and men in Texas with family planning and medical services."
Before rebranding itself to offer birth control and well woman's exams, among other services, the Heidi Group was counseling women against getting abortions. It had not offered robust health care services since 2009, when it shuttered a Dallas clinic that had offered prenatal services and counseling services to expecting moms. Over the years, Everett has often testified at the Texas Legislature in support of anti-abortion measures, including defunding Planned Parenthood and measures requiring abortion providers to bury or cremate fetuses.
During an interview with the Press last August after the Heidi Group was awarded the Healthy Texas Women grant, Everett addressed criticism on both sides of the aisle, from both the pro-choice and pro-life movements: the latter which believed Everett's bias as an anti-abortion activist precluded her organization from succeeding at offering contraception and family planning services, and the former which saw the Heidi Group's changing focus as a transition to the dark side.
"I’m just going to tell 'em, I think we have to be realistic," Everett told us when asked what she would tell pro-life critics. "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."
She said if a woman told her she was considering abortion, Everett would share her own regret in choosing abortion but would ultimately understand that "it's her choice."
By March 2017, the Associated Press checked on the Heidi Group's progress with its outreach plan targeting low-income families, which was supposed to include public service announcements, social media outreach and other online promotions, all of which the AP found were not going well. Everett had told the AP some clinics just weren't cooperating. "We worked on one Facebook site for three months and they didn't want to do it," she said. "We can't force them."
Williams added that there had been a delay in getting the family planning contract off the ground.
The Heidi Group is one of 53 providers receiving family planning grant money from the state, and had been allotted the second-most amount of money next to the Dallas County Hospital District, which received $5.4 million, according to information provided by HHSC. Of the 53 providers, HHSC reallocated funding for 12 of them, including the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services and UTMB Regional Maternal and Child Health Program — but the Heidi Group was the only provider to lose funds.
Williams said the money will be reallocated to other providers.