The Janani Suraksha Yojana, India’s “safe motherhood program,” is a conditional cash transfer to encourage women to give birth in health facilities. Despite the program’s apparent success increasing facility-based births, quantitative evaluations have not found corresponding improvements in health outcomes. This study analyses original qualitative data collected between January, 2012 and November, 2013 in a rural district in Uttar Pradesh to address the question of why the program has not improved health outcomes. It finds that health service providers are focused on capturing economic rents associated with the program, and provide an extremely poor quality care. Further, the program does not ultimately provide beneficiaries a large net monetary transfer at the time of birth. Based on a detailed accounting of the monetary costs of hospital and home deliveries, this study finds that the value of the transfer to beneficiaries is small due to costs associated with hospital births. Finally, this study also documents important emotional and psychological costs to women of delivering in the hospital. These findings suggest the need for a substantial rethinking of the program, paying careful attention to incentivizing health outcomes.