Fund Alternatives to Abortion
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference

December 2016

For years, the state of North Dakota has quietly fought the culture of death by caring for pregnant women and their children, while at the same time addressing the root causes of poverty. The program is called the Alternatives to Abortion program. It reimburses pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, and maternity homes for services to pregnant women and women who think they might be pregnant. It does not cover the full cost of providing those services. It does not even come close. It does, however, provide the agencies with some revenue to help them continue and expand their good work.

Using state funds to combat abortion in this way makes sense. For one thing, the official policy of the state of North Dakota is to favor childbirth over abortion. Furthering this policy cannot be done by restrictive legislation alone. We must respond to the factors that contribute to a woman thinking that abortion is an option. In other words, we must go after the “demand” for abortion. Finally, we cannot ignore that there is a war upon children in the womb. Court decisions, federal policies, and cultural trends that threaten unborn lives demand a state response, including expenditures to fight for life.

The program uses federal funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, sometimes known as the “welfare block grant.” Congress established TANF so states could have wide discretion to confront the causes of poverty, including out-of-wedlock pregnancies and unstable family relationships. The same factors in a woman’s life that lead her into an unplanned and crisis pregnancy are often the same factors that lead women and their children into poverty, such as the lack of parental guidance, education, housing, health care, and work, as well as domestic abuse, absent boyfriends, addiction, and substance abuse problems. Each time an abortion alternatives agency provides a woman with life-affirming alternatives it is also helps ensure that that woman and her child do not end up in poverty.

By all measures, the program is a success. The number of women served has steadily increased through the years. In 2011, the state awarded the Village Family Service Center with administering and advertising the program. The number of women served soon doubled, serving 1194 women in the 2015 fiscal year. Meanwhile, both the percentage of pregnant women in the state choosing abortions correspondingly declined and has reached a historic low. Women accessing the services appear to choose adoption at a surprisingly high rate and almost never choose abortion.

By helping women who think they are pregnant, but are not, the agencies also help prevent subsequent “scares” without resorting to demeaningly throwing contraceptives at women in the manner of Planned Parenthood. Women who have a false pregnancy test are counseled about their needs. It is not surprising, therefore, that the number of teenage pregnancies has declined during the same years the state has funded the program.

Two major threats to the program have loomed for several years. One has probably abated. The other is more concerning than ever before.

For years, abortion activists have tried to stop states from using TANF funds to help pro-life pregnancy centers. They started with a series of “exposes” that implied, but never proved, that the recipients of the funds used lies and high-pressure tactics to persuade women not to have abortions. They also implied that using TANF funds for these purposes took away cash assistance from poor families. In truth, cash assistance is set separately and the money used for abortion alternatives is “extra” money in the TANF block grant.

The second prong of attack was a campaign to convince the Obama administration or a future Clinton administration to issue rules preventing TANF funds from being used for abortion alternative programs. With the election of Donald Trump, that threat appears to have gone away for now.

The second looming threat comes from the program’s success. As mentioned, the number of women served has doubled in recent years. However, the amount of money allocated for the program has remained the same since 2007. As a result, the administrators had to slash reimbursement rates several times. In the 2015 fiscal year the program actually ran out of money before the end of the year. The state renewed the program for 2016, but only at the same amount as in previous years. Already, the program is on course too serve 150 more women than last year with the same amount of dollars.

It is time for the North Dakota legislature to substantially increase funding for the alternatives to abortion program. The state is facing a budget crisis. The alternatives to abortion program is funded with federal dollars that are already available to the state. Moreover, it is one of the smallest budget items in the state budget, coming to only $250,000 a year. The state can afford to at least double that amount. After all, we are talking about real alternatives to abortion. We are talking about real help for women and children in the womb.