By Sofia Resnick
WASHINGTON -- If you want to help carry out the anti-abortion mission of the taxpayer-funded Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center, you have to be a Christian.
It's right there on the Rapid City, S.D., center's volunteer application.
"Do you consider yourself a Christian?" "If yes, how long have you been a Christian?" "As a Christian, what is the basis of your salvation?" "Please provide the following information concerning your local church. Church name … Denomination ... Pastor's name." "This organization is a Christian pro-life ministry. We believe that our faith in Jesus Christ empowers us, enables us, and motivates us to provide pregnancy services in this community. Please write a brief statement about how your faith would affect your volunteer work at this center."
But that hasn't stopped the center from receiving federal funding and other forms of government support.
In 2010, it was awarded a $34,000 "capacity building" grant as part of President Obama's stimulus bill.
Last year, the nonprofit National Fatherhood Initiative, with "support from the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Family Assistance," awarded the center $25,000 for capacity building.
And when South Dakota passed a law requiring that women get counseling from a "pregnancy help center" before receiving an abortion, the Rapid City center was quick to sign up -- becoming one of three such facilities listed on the state's official website.
Like other crisis pregnancy centers, the Rapid City Care Net seeks to prevent abortions by offering women a combination of free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, a "24 hour hotline," and medically dubious "abortion education" (its website claims that "a number of reliable studies have demonstrated connection between abortion and later development of breast cancer").
The Rapid City center is not alone. On its website, the facility says it "submits to the affiliation guidelines" of the national Care Net organization, which supports more than 1,100 explicitly Christian crisis pregnancy centers. Care Net requires that at each center, "those who labor as pregnancy center board members, directors, and volunteers are expected to know Christ as their Savior and Lord" and that "all board members, staff, and volunteers of the center agree with the Care Net Statement of Faith."
And it's not just Care Net. Across the country, crisis pregnancy centers that refuse to hire non-Christians are receiving taxpayer funding and other forms of government support.
Equal Opportunity Employer?
The Life Center, a crisis pregnancy center in Midland, Texas, is looking for a new receptionist. The receptionist is expected to be bilingual in English and Spanish, proficient in Microsoft Word and Excel, and in agreement with the Life Center's "Common Christian Beliefs." Typed on each page of the three-page job application is: "The Life Center is an Equal Opportunity Employer" – even on the page that asks for a church reference.
Applicants for the open executive director position at the LifeTalk Resource Center in Frisco, Texas, have to prove they are "mature Christians." The Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center is only hiring "committed Christians."
Each of these centers appears on a list compiled and publicized by the Texas health department of organizations that offer free sonograms to pregnant women and that do not provide abortion services or referrals. The list was created last year as part of a sweeping anti-abortion law signed by Gov. Rick Perry. Doctors are required to distribute this list to women before performing an abortion.
The Life Center is among 12 centers on the list that also receive state funding through the controversial Alternatives to Abortion Services Program.
In addition to Texas, at least six other states -- Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania -- currently fund crisis pregnancy centers. Collectively, for the current fiscal year, they are allocating approximately $17 million to these anti-abortion centers.
The centers are generally barred from using state money to promote their faith, but many still use religion to make hiring decisions. True Life Choice in Orlando -- one of the 80 or so facilities funded by Florida's pregnancy center program -- is looking for an executive director who is a "committed Christian who demonstrates a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord."
A handful of anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers have also received indirect funding from the federal government during the Obama administration.
The Care Net facility in Rapid City, for example, was awarded a piece of a million-dollar stimulus grant given to South Dakota's Chiesman Center for Democracy to help nonprofits and faith-based organizations address issues within their local communities that were exacerbated by the global economic crisis. According to a report on this stimulus project, called the Strengthening Communities Fund, applicant organizations were evaluated based on their objectives and need for assistance, their organizational profile, and their approach. The money that each organization got had to be used for capacity-building purposes but not for direct services.
Chiesman's principal evaluator and researcher, Helen Usera, told TAI in an email that her organization provided capacity-building training and technical assistance to 19 nonprofits, including Black Hills Area Habitat for Humanity, Black Hills State University, and Northern Hills Alcohol and Drug Services.
"Care Net focused on board development which included strategic planning, hiring a consultant to provide facilitation of the strategic planning, and updating bylaws," Usera said. "In addition, they were able to send staff to various trainings in the areas of fund raising and marketing. Another area they were able to focus on was upgrading technology."
The center itself did not respond to requests for comment.
Usera said that Chiesman did not select any of the sub-grantees who participated in the project; they were chosen by a team of independent reviewers unaffiliated with the foundation.
Asked about the Care Net grant, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families told TAI: "All grantees and any sub recipients are required to follow the law and provide the services described under the terms and conditions of the grant. We are currently reviewing this particular situation."
While federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on religious beliefs, there is an exception for religious organizations -- a category that seems to include the Rapid City center and other CPCs. And in many cases, it's perfectly legal for these groups to receive taxpayer funding, even if they practice religious hiring discrimination.
Texas' Alternatives to Abortion Services Program, which annually draws in $4.15 million in taxpayer funding, is managed by the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit headquartered in Austin. Stephanie Goodman, the spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the program, told TAI that the commission does not have a specific policy on Christian groups that discriminate in hiring, but she said the state follows the federal "Charitable Choice" laws and requires the TPCN to do the same.
""Charitable Choice" refers to provisions in federal laws passed beginning in the late 1990s, which apply to various federal grant programs, such as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Generally, the laws specify that faith-based organizations cannot be excluded from competition for federal funds; they may consider their religious beliefs in hiring and firing employees (but they cannot use religion as an excuse not to hire for other things like race or gender); and they cannot use federal funds to support any inherently religious activities, such as worship or religious instruction. President George W. Bush expanded these exceptions, more broadly exempting religious organizations that receive federal contracts from rules that bar religious discrimination in hiring.
'An Outreach Ministry of Jesus Christ'
The fact that many of the country's anti-abortion pregnancy centers are Christian organizations is not something that is prominently featured in state literature promoting these groups or even on many of the centers' websites.
But for many of these places, Jesus Christ is central to their daily activities.
Care Net requires that each of its affiliates pledge to adhere to the network's " Pregnancy Center Standards of Affiliation," the first of which reads: "The primary mission of the center is to share the truth and love of Jesus Christ in conjunction with a ministry to those facing pregnancy related issues. The pregnancy center is an outreach ministry of Jesus Christ through His church. Therefore, the pregnancy center, embodied in its volunteers, is committed to presenting the gospel of our Lord to women with crisis pregnancies -- both in word and in deed. Commensurate with this purpose, those who labor as pregnancy center board members, directors, and volunteers are expected to know Christ as their savior and Lord."
Care Net also requires that all board members, staff, and volunteers at each center agree with the "Care Net Statement of Faith." Adapted from the National Association of Evangelicals' Statement of Faith, it reads, in part: "We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory."
Care Net member centers must agree to offer all services for free, to never perform or refer for abortions, and to refrain from referring "single women for contraceptives." However, "married women seeking contraceptive information should be urged to seek counsel, along with their husbands, from their pastor and/or physician."
A document attributed to Care Net that was given to TAI by the National Abortion Federation (the document is not dated, but NAF communications coordinator Andrea Alford said she believes it is from 1995) includes a section labeled, "Guidelines for Working with the CPC." Among the "Things to Remember" is this point:
We are worshipping and serving Jesus Christ. We are not in the ministry to serve the people, but to worship and serve Him. In worshiping and serving Him, He will enable us to minister to those who come to the CPC. If this focus shifts, the ministry will be less effective.
Care Net would not respond to questions about the authenticity of the document, but nearly identical language currently appears on the website of a Care Net affiliate in St. Cloud, Minn.
Care Net Chief Operating Officer Larry Breeden told TAI in an email that Care Net did not want to participate in this story, but regarding Care Net's hiring policies, he said, "Care Net adheres to federal requirements for a faith-based 501(c)3 and adheres to all federal requirements in the hiring process. Care Net is a Christ-centered ministry whose mission is to promote a culture of life within our society in order to serve people facing unplanned pregnancies and related sexual issues."
Another major anti-abortion pregnancy center network, Heartbeat International, also defines itself as a religious institution.
"We are formed under IRS regulations 501(c)3 as an organization for religious, charitable, and educational purposes," said Heartbeat International spokesperson Virginia Cline in an email to TAI. "We hire individuals who support our mission, our vision, and our Christian core operational values and beliefs."
According to its website, "All Heartbeat International polices and materials are consistent with Biblical principles and with orthodox Christian (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) ethical principles and teaching on the dignity of the human person and sanctity of human life."
Cline says that – unlike with Care Net – individual pregnancy centers affiliated with Heartbeat are not obligated to discriminate based on religion. She said the only requirement regarding their hiring practices is that they must comply with state and federal laws. Affiliates also must pledge to uphold Heartbeat International's "Commitment of Care and Competence."
But that doesn't mean Heartbeat opposes employment discrimination. In a posting on Heartbeat's job registry, for example, PregnancyCare of Cincinnati states that it is looking for a general manager with "mature Christian faith" who will "set a good personal example of Christ-centered servant leadership."
The third major CPC network in the U.S. is the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, based in Fredericksburg, Va. NIFLA was the first CPC network to promote ultrasounds in crisis pregnancy centers and works in tandem with Focus on the Family to transform CPCs into "medical clinics." Like Heartbeat, NIFLA maintains an online registry for available CPC jobs across the country. Many of the centers – some of which are also affiliated with Care Net or Heartbeat International – are only looking for Christians.
Recent open positions have included: a position for an executive director at Compassion Pregnancy Center in Clinton Township, Mich., who is a "dynamic disciple of Christ"; a position for an executive director at Option's Women's Clinic in Helena, Mont., who can "exhibit a strong Christian faith life"; and a position for an executive director at Concord, Calif., who "demonstrates a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and has a strong commitment and dedication to the pro-life position, the sanctity of human life, and sexual purity."
In the abortion wars, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates are often portrayed as being in direct conflict with the major CPC networks. Each side has its own powerful political allies, and each has a stake in public policies that can lead to public funding. But among the many key differences between Planned Parenthood clinics and crisis pregnancy centers is in their hiring policies. According to a spokesperson, Planned Parenthood employers do not ask applicants about their religious beliefs, and the organization's official hiring policy bars discrimination based on religion.
And while CPC applicants often must pledge to be against abortion, contraception, and, in many cases, premarital sex, Planned Parenthood says its policy is not to ask applicants about their views on such matters.
"People have a range of personal views on certain issues and for most, our views evolve over time," said Planned Parenthood spokesperson Andrea Hagelgans in an email. "Planned Parenthood hires staff who are qualified, meet high professional standards and are able to promote the mission of the organization."
'YOU can be the one to introduce them to Jesus'
Many crisis pregnancy centers, even those that receive state or federal grants, are nonprofits with low budgets that rely on volunteers to help run the centers and counsel women facing crisis pregnancies.
Though they are unpaid, volunteers serve key roles in these organizations.
The state-funded Pregnancy Care Center in Tampa, Fla., has this message for prospective volunteers (emphasis is original):
Our doors are open to women who do not know where else to turn, women searching for answers and help with unexpected pregnancies. Women who need honest information and material items for their baby.
Women who need Jesus!
YOU can be the one to introduce them to Jesus and help them make life-changing decisions.
Becoming a volunteer at the Pregnancy Care Center has great rewards!
Pregnancy Care Center's website explains that the center opened in 1988 "as an outreach ministry dedicated to presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ both in word and deed. The Center emphasizes the need to minister to both the mother, toward eternal life; and the baby toward a healthy live birth."
Some CPC volunteer applications can be quite personal and probing.
Heartbeat of Miami, which has two state-funded locations, publishes a six-page volunteer packet complete with the Apostle's Creed and a policy stating that the center does not encourage contraception but does provide "fertility awareness information" for married couples. Volunteer applicants are required to submit a recommendation from their pastor, and they are asked questions about their sex lives ("Are you now living a lifestyle of sexual integrity, abstinent if single or faithful within marriage?") and their past experience with abortion ("Have you ever had an abortion? … If Yes, have you had the opportunity to go through a post-abortion class on forgiveness and healing?").
The Pregnancy Help Center of Lufkin, which receives money through Texas' Alternatives to Abortion program, actually requires volunteers to sign a pledge that they will pray and attend church:
In addition to the above, I hereby pledge that as a volunteer I will:
1. Attend as many volunteer meetings/trainings as possible.
2. Pray regularly for my part in the ministry and for the ministry as a whole.
3. Fellowship with other believers for encouragement and edification (this means being part of a local Christian church).
'Inspired by God'
South Dakota has taken support for CPCs even further. Rather than provide funding, the state legislature simply mandated that women receive counseling at one of the anti-abortion centers before having an abortion.
Last year, the state passed a law that, among other things, created a 72-hour waiting period between when a woman first sees an abortion provider and when the abortion can be legally performed. During that time, the woman "must have a consultation at a pregnancy help center." The law specifies that the doctor must provide the woman the contact information of all crisis pregnancy centers registered with the state's department of health. Religious anti-abortion centers are allowed to participate in the program but are required to obtain written consent from pregnant women before discussing religion with them.
While much of the law is tied up in an ongoing court battle, the health department still maintains a list of three pregnancy centers that "have submitted the necessary affidavits to the department."
One of them is Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center, the Rapid City facility that received federal stimulus funds and asks volunteers, "As a Christian, what is the basis of your salvation?"
Another facility on the state's list -- the Bella Pregnancy Resource Center in Spearfish -- is also a Care Net affiliate and is thus obligated to hire only Christians and to follow Care Net's Statement of Faith.
That leaves the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls. According to Allen Unruh, who co-founded the organization in 1984 with his wife, Leslee, the "entire Alpha Center story was inspired by God, and the rising up of Godly people with courage to be salt and light; to take action against the most evil act in this generation – the killing of innocent unborn babies and the deliberate deception of millions of women."
It's possible that if South Dakota's anti-abortion law is ever implemented, some secular crisis pregnancy centers will register with the state. But as it stands now, doctors would be required to direct women to a facility whose mission is to prevent abortions while spreading the Gospel.