In Michigan, Real Alternatives uses a network of 15 pregnancy support centers, as well as several Catholic Charities affiliates, to provide its services to women.
According to the Michigan state health department, Real Alternatives is receiving $700,000 in funding for FY 2019, with $650,000 of that coming from federal grants and $50,000 from the state general fund.
Pennsylvania and beyond
Bagatta was one of the original founders of Real Alternatives, which was founded and is still headquartered in Pennsylvania. He said the Pennsylvania program alone has served over 308,000 women since its inception, and has inspired pro-life groups in other states to start similar programs. He said they've helped about 14 states so far to start similar programs whereby the state helps to fund the pregnancy support network.
"We're really no different from domestic violence and rape crisis programs," he explained.
"In those programs you have a certain client, a woman who's vulnerable...and what this program is it's, again, another vulnerable client, the woman who's in an unexpected pregnancy."
Bagatta noted that research done in the 1980s found that about 80% of women who had procured an abortion who were surveyed said that they would not have gone through with the procedure if just one person had taken the time to help them.
In 1996, then-Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey put funding in the state budget for alternatives to abortion services. Bagatta said this was the first time that a state used government funding for pregnancy centers and Catholic Charities to promote childbirth as an alternative to abortion for women facing unintended pregnancies.
Today, Real Alternatives runs the Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Michigan programs from their base in Harrisburg. They helped to start a similar program in Texas.
In 2013, Real Alternatives was asked by the Michigan Catholic Conference to help to explain the program to then-Governor Rick Snyder, who put money in the budget to start the state's program.
Catholic Charities affiliates in the various states are staffed with licensed social workers and trained counselors.
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Under the George W. Bush administration, the program was accepted as meeting the requirements to use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) money from the federal government, which states may use as they see fit. This means many of the state programs are funded with federal dollars; Pennsylvania's program, like Michigan's, also is funded by some state revenue. Usually the program is accepted in a state with a pro-life governor, Bagatta said.
"Every state gets TANF money. So if you're a pro-life governor, you can have this program and use your TANF money to do a program like we have in the multiple states that we administer."
In Michigan, half the clients are served through Catholic Charities affiliates in Kalamazoo, Southeast Michigan, West Michigan, and Washtenaw, in addition to three pregnancy centers.
Catholic Charities affiliates are able to dedicate staff specifically for this program as a result of the funding received, Bagatta said, and the funding model provides an incentive for the centers to serve more clients and open specific pregnancy resource programs.
Attempts to defund Real Alternatives
The program is not without its critics, however. Early in 2019, a group called the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the governor and attorney general stating that after pledging to administer 8,000 visits and serve 2,000 people in Michigan in Real Alternatives' first year of operation, the program "only managed to oversee a mere 785 visits and serve only 403 women."