Interview With Official of Pro-life Government-Funded Agency
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, 19 APRIL 2007 (ZENIT)
In 1995, Pennsylvania
started a bold, state-funded initiative to reduce the number of
abortions by providing pregnant women the necessary resources to keep
In this interview with ZENIT, Kevin Bagatta, president & chief executive
officer of Real Alternatives, (www.realalternatives.org/aboutus),
discusses the Pennsylvania Alternative to Abortion Services Program and
how it has helped abortion rates in the state to fall steadily.
Q: How did you get involved in Real Alternatives?
Bagatta: My three brothers and I were born and raised on Long Island,
New York. Both of our parents are handicapped. My Italian-American dad,
a World War II veteran, walks with cane and a brace and my
Irish-American mom became paralyzed with polio during the polio
They both taught us
and still do
the true value of life. Having watched the culture of death practiced by
Nazi Germany, they immediately explained to my brothers and I how wrong
the Roe vs. Wade decision was that legalized abortion in America and the
ill effects it would have on our country.
Q: Real Alternatives seeks to encourage childbirth instead of abortion.
How did it begin?
Bagatta: In 1994, Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey placed alternative
to abortion services program funding in the state budget.
In 1995, I answered an advertisement in the local newspaper from a
pro-life organization looking for a director to start a statewide
Real Alternatives was established to be the statewide administrator of
the Pennsylvania Alternative to Abortions Services Program [PAASP].
With a dedicated staff of 12 and nine board members, we contract with
120 service providers made up of pregnancy support centers, social
service agencies like Catholic Charities, adoption agencies and
maternity homes throughout the state to reach out to women in unplanned
or crisis pregnancies.
The concept of government-funded social services is not new.
Well over 30 years ago, the state saw nonprofit charitable agencies that
served women who were in a unique crisis either due to domestic violence
or rape, and decided to fund them so they would provide more service and
reach more women.
With PAASP, the state saw nonprofit charitable agencies serving women
who uniquely experience another type of crisis
an unplanned pregnancy. By funding these nonprofit charities, the
centers would be able to have the necessary resources to reach more
That is exactly what has happened. In fiscal year 1996, we served 6,715
women statewide with 72 centers. In fiscal year 2005, we served 16,600
women with 120 centers. With the necessary financial resources, centers
opened more sites and hired more counselors and continue to serve more
women in need. To date, over 123,000 women have been served under the
Q: Does Real Alternatives have appeal for abortion-advocates as well?
Bagatta: It ought to. Once there is a crisis pregnancy, this is the only
program established to help a woman in need choose life. By providing a
counselor to be with the woman in need from the moment she finds out she
is pregnant to 12 months after the birth of the baby, this program
empowers the mother to overcome her obstacles and crisis. She is not
alone. She knows someone is with her to help her.
An alternative to abortion is not a pamphlet, it is another person; it
is one woman seeing another woman in crisis and loving her and
supporting her like she is her own daughter. This program represents the
best in America.
Q: Recently you began working with faith-based organizations. How does
that teamwork happen, practically speaking?
Bagatta: This has been a greatly welcomed change in our ability to use
experienced service providers to serve women throughout the state.
Again, due to interpretation of U.S. Supreme Court First Amendment
cases, we were restricted in the type of faith-based organizations we
were allowed to contract due to the program being funded with government
Thanks to President George Bush's Faith-Based Initiative Executive
Order, all entities administering government funds are allowed to
contract with faith-based organizations as long as the faith-based
organization keeps their promotion of religion separate from the
Now, women can receive our government-funded service from a faith-based
organization like Catholic Charities and also receive religious services
Q: Your program recommends abstinence for young people. What is the most
difficult part of educating youth in this?
Bagatta: Remember, when we see young women in our centers they have
already become sexually active.
Not all young women, however, who think they are pregnant when they come
to our centers are indeed pregnant. For them, our goal is modify their
risky lifestyle and behavior, not accommodate it.
We do not want them to come through our doors again. We not only want
them to avoid a teen pregnancy but also a sexually transmitted disease.
Abstinence is the only way to lower teen pregnancies and sexually
transmitted diseases. Since this is the healthiest lifestyle for teens;
this is what we recommend.
Youth and parents are very ignorant or misinformed about the epidemic of
sexually transmitted disease among our teenage population.
In America, one out of two youths will acquire an STD before the age of
25. The only contraceptive that attempts to prevent pregnancy and
sexually transmitted diseases is the condom and it fails.
For example, in 2001, a U.S. governmental study revealed no proof that
condoms prevented transmission of gonorrhea, chlamydia infection,
trichomoniasis, genital herpes, syphilis, chancroid, and HPV-associated
We have known for years that certain strains of HPV cause deadly
cervical cancer. Once we found out about these studies, we told the
teenage girls this information so they could avoid these diseases
which in some cases are incurable and cause death
Teenagers are smart and want the facts.
Q: Your Web site explains that a main goal is providing information so
that a client can make an educated and informed choice about her health
and that of her baby. How much does a "typical" client know about
Bagatta: Many times a woman assumes that there is just this "blob of
tissue" that is removed. This is why tasteful, medically accurate fetal
development photos interest her and why we have them on our Web site.
In addition, counselors provide information of the types of abortion
performed and the risks associated with abortion. This information is
provided to ensure that women who are considering abortion are fully
informed about what is occurring in an abortion and of the ramifications
of that decision.
The primary purpose of the program is to provide pregnancy support
services that promote childbirth instead of abortion. Women seeking
alternatives to abortion appreciate as many facts as possible when they
are undecided about what to do in a crisis pregnancy. Providing her with
facts empowers her and ensures she is fully informed before she makes a
Q: Real Alternatives continues to provide assistance to mothers and
fathers even after babies are born. Why and how does this work?
Bagatta: The client arrives at the service provider and starts to
receive counseling support that meets her needs.
If she is not sure she is pregnant, then a pregnancy self-test kit will
be offered to her. If she is pregnant, the counselor will listen to the
expressed concern she has about the pregnancy. If she is new to
parenting, parenting classes or stress management counseling might be
offered to ensure the crisis pregnancy does not become a
Each woman seeking the services comes as a unique individual. As such,
her family, her education, her beliefs and her experiences shape her.
This program provides a person to assist and mentor the woman to
overcome her obstacles and meet her needs from the time she finds out
she is pregnant until her baby is 12 months old.
Q: Explain how other states have looked to Pennsylvania with thoughts of
implementing similar programs. Could this become a nationwide program?
Bagatta: Once we established the program and abortions started to
decrease in Pennsylvania, other state pro-life organizations became
interested in this first-of-its-kind program. Remember, using tax
dollars to promote life was revolutionary.
As a result of our educating these pro-life organization about the
program, state governors and legislatures in Louisiana, Missouri,
Nebraska, North Dakota, Florida and Texas placed funding of Alternative
to Abortion Services programs in their budgets.
Most of the states could not fund their programs at the $5.5 million a
year level of Pennsylvania and now have much smaller programs. The state
of Texas, however, proposed a large $2.5-million-a-year program and
asked us to replicate our program there.
Real Alternatives, through its government audits, has earned the
reputation in Pennsylvania as a fiscally responsible and trusted
custodian of public funds.
This is the program that works in America lowering abortions and is
certainly the compassionate and caring approach that should be tried in
the rest of the world and funded as an additional program through the
United Nations. ZE07041928