State cancels contracts with anti-abortion group
AUSTIN — Texas health officials who awarded $6.3 million in state contracts to an anti-abortion women’s health care coordinator announced Friday that the contracts are being canceled after the group misused some of that funding.
The Heidi Group’s state contract award was criticized by abortion rights activists who questioned early on why the state would hire an anti-abortion group with no experience to run a family planning program for low-income women.
“The evidence has been out there from the start of this fiasco for everyone who isn’t willfully blind,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates for civil liberties. “We hope this signals that the state is serious about working with qualified providers and will start basing decisions about women’s health on evidence instead of antiabortion politics. But either way, this is a victory for common sense and the women of Texas.”
The state is now investigating how The Heidi Group spent about $1.1 million it received with billings that are suspected to be for ineligible services. The group will also have to pay back the Texas Health and Human Services Commission at least $29,400 in state money that went toward other costs that are not allowed under its contract, state officials said.
“The Heidi Group has had substantial deficiencies in the areas of contract compliance, service administration, and financial and administration management of both contracts,” a statement from the commission read. Although the group will be removed from the state’s network of women’s health care providers, the commission said thousands of providers are still available.
State officials hired The Heidi Group, which is based in the Austin suburb of Round Rock and run by anti-abortion activist Carol Everett, in 2016 to provide family planning and wellness care, although Everett had no experience running such programs. The group pledged to serve almost 70,000 women but has served just 3,356 clients, according to the commission. The group lists 32 clinics where women can obtain wellness or family planning services.
Everett’s organization first won contracts to coordinate care for Texas women in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that dismantled the state’s regulations on abortion clinics as unconstitutional. Texas officials then approved a contract with The Heidi Group, unveiled a fetal burial policy and inserted inaccurate information in state brochures about abortion.
“Given the anti-abortion sentiment that controls state government, I assume that’s why The Heidi Group was favorably considered,” said Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston Republican. “It seems that we are not wisely using taxpayer dollars.”
The contracts will terminate Dec. 11.