This week RH Reality Check has been reporting on the Obama administration’s decision to add Heritage Keepers, an abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum, to its list of evidence-based programs. As a number of my colleagues pointed out in an earlier article this decision seems to be based solely on unpublished research that has already been declared flawed. And, as I pointed out in an article detailing the content of Heritage Keepers the program is more marriage promotion than sexuality education and was definitely one of the curricula that sexuality educators were eager to see disappear as the funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs dried up. Truth be told, though, many of us were also eager to see the creator of the programs, Heritage Community Services—an organization that went from tiny to wealthy almost exclusively on taxpayer’s money—disappear as well.
Heritage Community Services was founded in 1995 by Anne Badgley as an adjunct organization to the Lowcountry Crisis Pregnancy Center which she had founded in 1986. Today, the two groups are separate non-profits but they continue to share the same office and some staff members. Like most crisis pregnancy centers, Lowcountry exists to convince women facing an unplanned pregnancy not to choose abortion. The organization’s website explains:
"Because LPC does not profit from your decisions, we do not provide or refer for abortion, and we do not sell or refer for birth control.”
The organization also discusses the "emotional" problems that women can expect after an abortion:
“After having an abortion, women may develop the following symptoms of guilt, grief, anger, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and difficulty bonding with their partner or child.”
As well as the "spiritual" ones:
"While we all have different understandings of God, there is a spiritual aspect of abortion to be considered. You may have certain questions about doing the right thing, while wondering about your future, why you exist, and what the future may be for the baby growing inside of you. How do you view the world? If you have an abortion, how will you feel in the future when you do decide to have a baby? Did you know that God has a plan for every person’s life, including yours and your baby’s? These are important questions to think about. Remember, you are NEVER alone!”
Anne Badgley also has close ties with other crisis pregnancy centers and serves on the National CareNet Centers for Tomorrow Advisory Board. According to its website, CareNet is a “Christian ministry assisting and promoting the evangelistic, pro-life work of pregnancy centers in North America .”
Heritage Community Services was founded with the mission “to strengthen the character of America’s adolescents and our communities one individual, one family, and one institution at a time.” The organization’s website explains that it is mostly concerned with the well-being of children
“It is about their parents having a healthy relationship. It is about the family structures they belong to. It is about the behaviors they will adopt that will enable them to first get an education, then get a job, then get married, and, then, start their own families. It is about healthy family formation and maintenance.”
The organization explains that it uses the Heritage MethodSM which it :
"…a systemic approach that through the use of our programs is designed to saturate whole communities with effective resources to help young people develop good character, abstain from risky behaviors, and prepare for marriage and family life.”
The Money and the Power
In 1999, when the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry was still in its infancy, Heritage Community Services was a small organization with a budget of $50,000 but Badgelya “politically connected GOP activist.” So much so that George W. Bush swung by Heritage Community Services on his first presidential campaign stop in South Carolina. Bush, who pioneered abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in his home of Texas, told the crowd: “The contraceptive message sends a contradictory message. It tends to undermine the message of abstinence.” He promised that as President he would support these types of programs and boost federal funding. After the workshop, Bush met with Badgley, who“organized a meeting for Bush with local conservative leaders and put her Roladex at his disposal.” She reported: “I could see he was very sincere, and I worked hard to get him elected.”
A good move on Badgely’s part as Bush made good on his promise to support her brand of education; funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs increased 200 percent during the first six years of the Bush administration. Badgely and her organization benefited immensely from this money.
The first large federal funding stream for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, known as Title V, consisted of $50 million which was given out to states in the form of block grants. States that chose to accept the money were required to match every four federal dollars with three state-raised dollars and then had the responsibility to spend the money on abstinence-only programs or distribute it to community-based organizations that would then run such programs. Most states put out a request for proposals and asked organizations to apply for the money through a competitive process that, at least theoretically, rewarded those agencies that were most qualified and could offer the best programming.
Not so in South Carolina. Instead, the governor awarded Heritage Community Services the state’s entire Title V sum without a competitive bidding process. In later years, after some outcry, there was a bidding process and interestingly Heritage Community Services continued to be the sole recipient of the state’s Title V money. In Fiscal Year 2003 for example, $130,000 of the state’s Title V money was used for staff and administrative costs at the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the rest, $681,000, was given to Heritage Community Services. (In fairness this started before Bush took office and probably had more to do with Badgely’s relationship to the governor, whose office controlled the money, than to the future President.)
Her relationship with Bush was once again on display in 2002 whento South Carolina “and met with Badgley and staff from Heritage Community Services and the Lowcountry Crisis Pregnancy Center to discuss Heritage's abstinence only-until-marriage programming.” The President was accompanied by his Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson, who was in charge of the administration’s abstinence-only-until-marriage programs as well as marriage promotion programs.
During Bush’s reign in office, Heritage Community Services continued to benefit financially from the boon in abstinence-only funding. Between Fiscal Years 2003 and 20010 the organization received more than $4.3 million in Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding from the state of South Carolina., $4.7 million in funding from the federal government’s Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grants, and more than $2 million dollars from the federal funding under the Adolescent and Family Life Act. According to SIECUS’ state profiles: “In all, the organization has received nearly $12 million in federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs over the past ten years.” This number reaches over 18 million when you add state money to the tally.
Not surprisingly, over the years there has been some controversy over the large sums of money the organization has received and questions about whether Badgely and her family have personally profited from this glut of taxpayer dollars. At least four members of her family have been compensated for their work with Heritage Community Services and Heritage Keepers including Anne, her husband Gordon, their daughter Sally Badgely Raymond, and her husband Jerry Raymond. A 2007 article in The Nationexplains that Anne and Gordon set up Badgley Enterprises which markets and sells Heritage Keepers. The article explains:
“While Heritage’s IRS 990s are sketchy and marked by vague expenses, even a student loan repayment, they clearly show that the Badgleys pocketed $174,201 from the taxpayer-funded nonprofit by buying the curriculum from their own private company.”
That’s right, Heritage Community Services uses federal and state funds to buy copies of its own program from a private company that is wholly owned by the Badgley family.
Beyond the South Carolina Borders
While we can only speculate what the funding allowed the Badgely family to do, we do know that it allowed Heritage Community Services and its message to expand beyond its home state of South Carolina.At one point the organization boasted that its materials were being used in 22 counties in South Carolina as well as schools in Augusta, GA; Lexington, KY; Florida; Maine; Massachusetts; North Carolina; Rhode Island; and the Caribbean. It added that additional communities in Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Africa were interested in using its programs.
It turned out, however, that its methods and materials were not welcome everywhere. In 2004, an affiliate calling itself Heritage of Rhode Island became the sole organization in that state to receive CBAE funding when it was rewarded a grant of $400,260. A brochure explained that the affiliate used two programs, Heritage Keepers and a second called Right Time, Right Place which it described as:
“a character-based family-life and sexuality program designed to fit into a school's already existing curriculum. The program promotes abstinence as the best choice for adolescents when it comes to sexual activity.”
The affiliate stated that its goal was to provide abstinence education to 2,000 students in Rhode Island’s public and private schools.
Its seems, however, that some schools were not happy to have them—even though the programs were free. The Heritage program, for example, was kicked out of the Pawtucket schools after parents complained. Then, in 2006, the Commissioner of Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) sent a letter “to all public school superintendents notifying them that Heritage of Rhode Island had not been approved for in-school usage and, if used in public schools, could be violating state law.” Though not technically a ban on using these programs in the public schools the letter went on to say:
“RIDE is not working with Heritage of Rhode Island, nor does RIDE endorse its curriculum as meeting state standards. Heritage of Rhode Island has been marketing at least one sex-education curriculum despite the fact that this program is not approved by the HIV/AIDS Material Review Panel at RIDE.”
Heritage materials were actually banned from schools in Maine. In 2005, the state refused to allow Heritage of Maine to conduct its programs in Maine public schools because its curricula did not meet the comprehensive health education requirements for the state. Maine has long been committed to providing high quality sexuality education along with access to family planning services, and many in the state credit this commitment with bringing down the state’s high teen pregnancy rates which declined dramatically even while they were peaking elsewhere. (Between 1980 and 1996, the pregnancy rate for young women 15 to 19 years of age in Maine decreased by 33 percent. The national peak was in 1991.) Despite not being welcome in the state’s public schools, Heritage of Maine (which changed its name to Maine Character Resources) continued to encourage “parents, community groups, and schools to invite the organization in. Its website urges interested individuals to ‘coordinate with other parents and co-sign a letter of request asking to bring Heritage Keepers’ authentic abstinence program to your school.’”
The More Thing Change
Despite its chilly reception in states like Maine and Rhode Island (states, might I add, that have good histories when it comes to supporting real sex education efforts), Heritage Community Services andHeritage Keepers seem to have survived the pendulum swing away from abstinence-only-until marriage programs. In Fiscal Year 2010, when much of the federal money was gone, the organization still managed to bring in $450,000 in Title V funding.
And now, despite the fact that we have an administration that is supposedly supportive of a more comprehensive approach to preventing teen pregnancy and STDs, Heritage Community Services once again finds itself in a place of privilege. One that may even come with federal money.
You see the list that Heritage Keepers was added to this week is worth at least $75 million. That is the amount of Tier 1 funding under the administration’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. Tier 1 funding must be used to replicated one of the now 31 programs on this list “with fidelity.” That means that organizations who receive this funding choose a program to replicate and dedicate at least some of the money they get to buying the program’s written materials and receiving training from the organization that created or distributes the program.
The money won’t necessarily start rolling in to Heritage Community Services (or, perhaps, Badgely Enterprises) quite yet as all of the TTPI money is currently committed in existing five-year cooperative agreements. That said, if any more money becomes available, the Badgelys could certainly see some of it.
Moreover, this list serves as a federal seal of approval for teen pregnancy-prevention programs in particular meaning that organizations across the country who receive other federal funding, state funds, or private money to conduct prevention programs often turn to this list to decide which curriculum they should purchase or who they should hire to train their staff.
It was one thing when George W. Bush put Heritage Community Services front-and-center in his efforts to tell the youth of America to stay pure until their wedding night. He shared the organization’s ideologies and was expected to throw political bone to those conservatives, like Anne Badgely, who helped get him elected. But to see Heritage Keepers— a blatantly sexist marriage promotion program for eighth graders — given a place of honor under our current administration is unconscionable.