Friday May 25th, 2018 3:15AM

Texas House ethics chair probes anti-abortion group contract

By The Associated Press
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The head of the Texas House ethics committee says she wants answers about an anti-abortion group that received $1.6 million to bolster women's health clinics after The Associated Press found that promises have come up short.

Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis on Thursday grilled top state officials over The Heidi Group, which received taxpayer funds last summer as part of a broader effort by conservative lawmakers to give women alternatives to Planned Parenthood. The AP reported this week that eight months into a contract to help clinics attract more patients, The Heidi Group has done little of the sweeping outreach it promised.

Davis, who chairs the House General Investigations and Ethics Commission, hinted that a closer look will be taken as to how The Heidi Group received funding in the first place.

"It's just not looking very good. It's not looking promising for this provider," Davis told state officials testifying before her committee in the Texas Capitol. "And we're going to be back here, and talking about contracting and procurement issues with this. I'm just predicting that."

The Heidi Group is led by a prominent anti-abortion activist, Carol Everett, who pledged to help mostly small and rural providers attract more low-income clients through outreach and advertising. But the AP found the nonprofit has little to show for its work. It hasn't made good on airing public service announcements, setting up a 1-800 number to help women find providers or making sure clinics keep updated websites and promote on Facebook.

Someone who answered the phone at The Heidi Group on Friday hung up while being asked about Davis' committee hearing.

Earlier this month, Everett told the AP that some of her community clinics aren't cooperating despite her best efforts and that advertising she planned was stalled by delays in a separate $5.1 million family planning contract. A spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has disputed that contract funding and notification were as slow as Everett alleged.

Everett has said her staff is in clinic offices and helping providers as needed, saying they are busy seeing 40 to 50 women a day.

Gary Jessee, a deputy executive commissioner at the state health agency, told Davis that they are now doing additional due diligence and were reaching out to clinics working with The Heidi Group.

"We've requested a full, revised outreach plan from that provider to ensure that we have the full picture of what they're doing," Jessee said.

The Heidi Group projected that its clinics would serve 50,000 women in one year. Pressed by Davis about whether women were coming into those clinics as a result of The Heidi Group's efforts, Jessee said it was his understanding that was the case. He promised to later provide Davis with caseload numbers at the clinics.

Texas for years has set out to prove it doesn't need Planned Parenthood, a major provider of health screenings and birth control for women across the U.S. The new health care overhaul proposed by congressional Republicans would federally defund Planned Parenthood for one year, and House Speaker Paul Ryan has suggested that other clinics would step up.


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