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Contract calls for anti-abortion group to line up counseling

November 15, 2015
Most of a $3.5 million no-bid contract that Republican Gov. Mike Pence awarded to an anti-abortion not-for-profit organization that pushes abstinence as the only method of birth control will be spent providing services to pregnant women who choose not to have an abortion.
 
Pennsylvania-based Real Alternatives will essentially act as a middleman, signing up service providers around the state to "enable pregnant women in Indiana to maintain pregnancy and achieve positive healthy pregnancy outcomes through provision of pregnancy support services and referrals to care."
 
The contract, announced Oct. 12 by Pence, wasn't made public until this month. It follows a one-year pilot program in northern Indiana that was backed by the governor, who has long opposed funding for Planned Parenthood, a group that provides women's health services, including abortions.
 
Under the deal, $313,000 will go toward paying administrative expenses, including $58,000 in salary for the CEO of the company, Kevin Bagatta. About $2.4 million is set for direct client services, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported.
 
Real Alternatives receives taxpayer funding to provide pregnancy support services in Pennsylvania, Michigan and now Indiana. To participate, the service providers must have an anti-abortion mission, and the funding also cannot cover contraceptives.
 
Pregnant women can receive parenting and pregnancy classes through the organization, as well as clothing, food, information on adoption and housing and medical referrals.
 
The awarding of the contract was praised by Indiana Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that says Real Alternatives "offers life-affirming and compassionate care." The group's CEO, Mike Fichter, was listed with the Indiana secretary of state's office as the registered agent for Real Alternatives Inc., though it wasn't clear whether he benefited personally from the contract, the newspaper reported.
 
Indiana Right to Life did not immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment, and Fichter's voicemail was full. On Friday, the secretary of state's office no longer showed Fichter as the registered agent.
 
The number of abortions performed in Indiana has dropped about 20 percent since 2010, and 8,118 were performed last year, according to state records.
 
Democratic House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said the contract with Real Alternatives should have been awarded in a more transparent way.
 
"People expect bids to be put out fairly," said Pelath, D-Michigan City. "Take the issue away from it. They don't like the idea of somebody having an inside track and the ability to make money just because they happen to be somebody's pal."
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