I grew up in the red state of Indiana, home to the Nation’s largest annual right to life banquet. Living in California for five years during the 2016 campaign cycle and through Trump’s presidency was a vastly different experience on the pro-life front. While Indiana’s State Legislature actively passed safety reforms,1 safeguards to stop sex trafficking,2 and anti-discrimination bills, California required insurance providers to offer coverage for abortions, contrary to federal HHS Office of Civil Rights regulations. California also pays for abortions through its tax-funded Medi-Cal program.3
When I moved to Texas in 2020, I knew I was returning to a state well-known for its pro-life policies.
But this week, I spoke with Carol Everett of The Heidi Group (THG), an Austin-area, non-profit organization that strives “to help every low-income woman with [her] annual visit to the physician at no cost.”4 The Heidi Group has actively voiced the pro-life message across Texas and nationwide for almost three decades, advocating for and supporting pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) in providing pregnancy care and support. I wish I could say I was shocked by what she shared with me about the inner workings of Texas’ state government, but working at Life Legal for four years exposed me to the harsh reality of structural corruption within government. Still, hearing Carol’s story was a sudden, eye-opening reality-check that being a pro-lifer is dangerous—even in a very pro-life state.
Switching Teams—From Abortion Clinic Mogul to Pro-Life Advocate
Carol’s fiery native-Texan spirit gave her a passion for fighting in the trenches. She started her pro-life advocacy after leaving the abortion industry, where she ran several abortion clinics. After realizing the truth of the pro-life position, she departed the abortion industry, instead developing ambitions to become a millionaire through real estate investing. This plan was quickly thwarted when opportunities to speak to the pro-life community about her story began flooding her calendar. She then understood God’s path for her to advocate for the unborn.
After several years promoting life-saving legislation, Carol realized many encouraging successes. For example, in 1997, S.B. 407 (H.B. 1069) overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the state legislature, and for good reason. The bill required abortion clinics to follow health and safety standards on par with veterinarian clinics. As a result, about half of the abortion facilities in Texas closed because they could not comply with the same regulations required to care for dogs. More pregnancy resource centers opened. It was a great victory, to be sure.
But Carol realized she wanted to connect directly with the people receiving the benefits of pro-life work. She wanted to see individual lives changed and saved, so after moving from Dallas to Austin, she started The Heidi Group. Carol—through THG—supported the ever-increasing number of pregnancy resource centers that Texas gained after the 1997 legislation. (Prior to the legislation, there were about 90 PRCs; now there are 183.) As the ministry grew, she realized something big needed to be done to root out the abortion machine in Texas.
“Legislating standards was a start,” Carol told me. “But I wanted to do something that injured the abortion industry.”
That “something” was defunding Planned Parenthood. After high clinic-closure levels due to regulatory non-compliance in the 1990s, Planned Parenthood oversaw nine of the remaining abortion clinics in Texas, and was expanding. Carol knew if she could find a way to remove the $70 million in revenue Planned Parenthood received from the Texas government, Texas-based abortion clinics simply could not survive.
What Carol didn’t anticipate were the coordinated efforts to destroy her ministry that would come at her from all sides.
After all, she already had a name in the pro-life community. She already had played a starring role in shutting down abortion clinics and building up pregnancy resource centers. So, what changed?
“I was always left alone until I got money that would have gone to Planned Parenthood.”
While continuing her work with The Heidi Group, Carol knew she could make an even greater impact for the PRCs with which she worked if she could re-route money Planned Parenthood was receiving and send it to pro-life organizations.
Carol targeted the common but baseless claim that Planned Parenthood meets an otherwise neglected need for women. In 2008, Carol started her preliminary research into the topic, finding Planned Parenthood had 93 clinics in the state.5 This paled in comparison to the 4000 health clinics in the state that accepted Medicaid but did not permit abortions. After thoroughly debunking Planned Parenthood’s erroneous claim by simple facts, Carol gained support for the defunding. In 2011, the legislature added a rider to the budget requiring first priority for funds would go to city, county, and state-run facilities. Next, federally qualified healthcare clinics and certain non-profits would be eligible to claim reimbursements, meaning Planned Parenthood would only receive any leftovers of the third tier. This amounted to less than $100,000 in expected funds available for Planned Parenthood clinics, compared to $70 million before the budget rider passed. Twenty-four PP abortion-feeder clinics closed almost immediately.
But Carol’s work promoting a pro-life approach to providing healthcare to needy women had just begun.
“You Will Fail.”
In 2015, the Texas Legislature approved a new, state-funded women’s health program serving indigent women, which the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) began to implement in 2016. The Heidi Group, under Carol’s leadership, applied to participate in the new program, and, in July 2016, received a contract to participate in the Healthy Texas Women’s program. Of note, THG was the only organization that was explicitly pro-life to operate in the program. Later, THG received a contract under the state-funded Family Planning program in January 2017. Approved six months late, this delay foreshadowed the bureaucratic shortfalls that would dog THG throughout its participation in both programs.
Carol and her budding team rapidly provided training to 35 providers she brought on board under the Healthy Texas Women contract, but support from the state was weak and inadequate. Try as she might, Carol was unable to get assistance from her contract manager at HHSC. Her phone calls and emails asking for help went mostly unanswered. Even when responses were received, critically needed answers were insufficient.
Shortly after the start of the Healthy Texas Women contract, a pro-abortion journalist called Carol for a quote about THG’s participation in the new program. Carol refused to provide one; in response, the journalist chillingly stated: “You will fail.” This sadly proved to be prophetic. Just two years later, the Heidi Group had failure unjustly forced upon it by a hostile state agency—just six weeks after its contracts were renewed.
Carol eventually learned from a senior program leader that HHSC employees openly talked about a plan to sabotage the new program in hopes of directing funds back to Planned Parenthood. This was no conspiracy theory; multiple inside sources confirmed it to Carol, yet no one was willing to step up and speak out publicly for fear of retaliation. This conspiracy eventually culminated in harsh, adverse action against THG.
In the spring of 2018, HHSC’s Financial Management Unit audited THG, making three findings that have since been established as essentially groundless. Carol and her team soldiered on through this hostile process, submitting to repeated audits over the next four months, all of which THG passed. Then, effective September 1, 2018, after a month of negotiations, HHSC renewed THG’s contracts for another year. All seemed settled and back on track—but it wasn’t.
Unbeknownst to Carol, a former THG staff-member, who was dismissed for unprofessional conduct, defamed Carol and THG to the HHSC Office of Inspector General (OIG). That staff-member also illegally accessed THG’s databases, which is a violation of the state’s criminal laws. The OIG, while aware of the improper conduct, continually encouraged and accepted the illicitly-obtained information and documents from the disgruntled former employee gone rogue.6
Despite this attack, THG continued to make progress under its renewed contracts, operating without incident until a pro-abortion publication published an anonymously-sourced hit piece full of false allegations against Carol and THG. Perhaps most egregious, the report asserted THG only served 3000 patients in fiscal year 2017, a figure far short of the truth.
Even though HHSC didn’t voice any concern over the hit piece, it terminated THG’s contracts without warning on October 12, 2018. When Carol asked the reason for the termination, HHSC never replied. She was left in the dark, leaving her providers and patients out to dry. HHSC’s spokesperson publicly repeated some of the lies contained in the hit piece, completely ignoring that THG had its contract renewed just six weeks earlier.
Thus, the conspiracy to collapse the only pro-life contractor in Texas’ new women’s health program hit its target.
But this was just the start of the blowback. The OIG then pursued a year-long investigation of THG’s 2017 contract performance. In November 2019, without interviewing Carol or any representatives of The Heidi Group,7 the OIG released a report simply parroting the erroneous findings made by the HHSC’s Financial Management Unit 18 months earlier. The OIG concluded that The Heidi Group should repay $1.5 million of the money it received for women’s health services.8 Only recently, in 2021, has the OIG’s subsequent audit finally recognized the groundlessness of the investigation’s core findings. The amount in issue now is a tiny fraction of the original amount.
Attacked from All Sides
It hasn’t been just the government corruption and incompetence Carol is battling against. It wasn’t only one disgruntled employee that picked a fight. The media also joined in. At first Carol openly talked to the media, hoping her transparency would set the story straight. But each time a new article was printed, she lost more and more trust in so-called objective journalism. Supposed “news” stories had headlines like “Anti-Choice Grifter’s Mischief Costs Texas Taxpayers $1.6M”9
Journalists began showing up to Carol’s office and attempting to barge into private offices uninvited. They accosted her in the Capitol building. On one occasion, a journalist physically assaulted her when he grabbed her by the arm.
One of the most jarring incidents occurred when Carol was in The Heidi Group’s office alone with the doors locked. As she entered her private office from another room, she encountered two strangers. Somewhat in shock, she quickly ushered them out the door without asking questions. She called the police, who responded and suggested she search the room for listening devices that may have been planted. Sure enough, she found one in a desk drawer.
Also, the office was broken into multiple times. However, the intruders did not apparently steal anything, but just engaged in inexplicable harassing acts like removing all the food from the refrigerator, which Carol calls emotional terrorism.
More Than Just a Headache
The OIG’s endless audit continues to this day. At least a little light of truth found its way into this punitive process: most of the original findings have been found to be without merit.
But the cloud of the previous false reports has disabled The Heidi Group’s capacity to operate by confusing donors and thus drying up contributions. Still passionate about helping women in their time of need, Carol has not given up the fight to set the record straight. Unfortunately, how long The Heidi Group as an organization can continue to exist is an open question.
“Texas has put a pro-life organization out of business,” she told me sadly.
Beaten, but not broken, Carol readily acknowledges that her story serves as both inspiration and warning. It is inspiring to see her commitment to the children, women, and men she is passionate to save from the devastating effects of abortion. It is a warning when we consider the coordinated lengths that pro-aborts will take in order to protect Planned Parenthood’s corporate interests. Though we speak truth to power at the ballot box each election, the pro-abortion lobby is still quite powerful: they strategically place people in government agencies who know how to make people fail.
Hearing Carol’s story stirs in me a renewed sense of awareness. I may be in a pro-life state, but being pro-life is still dangerous. I may see the policies I support on the books, but there is more to be done to root out corruption within government ranks and to shut down the abortion empire that has established itself in our Nation.
[Life Legal affiliate attorney Ed Watt leads a team of attorneys representing Carol in an effort to clear her name and restore her reputation and that of The Heidi Group. We are taking on major government players in Texas who have not only caused harm to Carol and The Heidi Group, but have facilitated the restoration of state funding to supposedly former abortion providers / referrers, including Planned Parenthood entities that changed their names in order to “qualify” for state funding. Please pray for Carol and for the attorneys committed to seeing The Heidi Group function once again as a viable pro-life alternative to the abortion cartel that continues to murder innocent children.—Ed.]
1For example, health standards with which abortion clinics must comply.
2Indiana’s “Sex Selective and Disability Abortion Ban” and parental notification laws are the subjects of Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky currently before the Supreme Court on a petition for review.
5Nine of these clinics committed abortions. Others were “feeders”—screening centers that conducted pregnancy and STD tests, distributed birth control, and referred for abortion at other locations.
6This former employee was investigated by the police and ultimately arrested for these acts.
7Even now, nearly three years after the contracts were terminated and after numerous and on-going audits and reports, neither HHSC nor the OIG have ever even interviewed Carol despite multiple requests from her and their initial agreement to do so.
8To view the final report, visit https://www.texasobserver.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/THG-Final-Report.pdf. To see The Heidi Group’s response, visit http://images.radio.com/krldam/s3fs-public/Official%20Press%20Release%20%282%29%20%282%29.pdf.