Choose Life Georgia money goes to crisis pregnancy centers; will that happen here?
In Georgia, money generated by the sale of that state’s “Choose Life” license plates goes directly to crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women not to have abortions, and a bill now pending in the Florida legislature could open the door for Floridians’ money to flow to similar centers here.
Sponsored by state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, Senate Bill 196 aims to redirect the funds made off the brightly colored plates from Florida counties directly into the hands of the Ocala-based organization Choose Life, Inc. The bill will also do away with a stipulation that the majority of the funds (at least 70 percent) go to meeting the physical needs of pregnant women making an adoption plan for their unborn children.
Fasano’s bill would also open the door for the funds to go to crisis pregnancy centers that have been found to distribute medically inaccurate information about abortion to women seeking help.
In Georgia, $10 from every sale of that state’s “Choose Life” plate goes to a Choose Life affiliate, which then sends all of the funds to agencies that counsel for adoption, and against abortion.
“We have the fewest restrictions for how we use the funds … so we have a great flexibility in how we do things,” says Carol Swift, president of Choose Life Georgia.
According to Swift, Choose Life Florida President Russ Amerling was integral in making the plate available in Georgia. “Russ Amerling was very helpful when we were working to get our legislation passed,” she says. “A state representative encouraged everyone to put it together in an omnibus bill. There were 31 tags on one piece of legislation, which was an advantage for us. … You may be against Choose Life, but you might not be against neutering dogs and cats. By putting it together that way, it passed very easily. ”
Unlike in Florida, all of Choose Life Georgia funds go directly to crisis pregnancy centers. Swift says the centers must be affiliated with a larger organization, in order to make sure the funds are used most effectively.
“We mandated that the pregnancy centers be a member of a national organization, so that we could make sure the agencies being funded were efficient … NIFLA or Care Net International or Heartbeat International, and sometimes North American Mission Board.”
According to its mission statement, Care Net is a “Christ-centered ministry whose mission is to promote a culture of life within our society in order to serve people facing unplanned pregnancies and related sexual issues.” NIFLA, Heartbeat and the North American Mission Board all share similar mission statements.
Choose Life Georgia also requires that at least one employee of each counseling center be put through an annual eight-hour training session, sponsored by Bethany Christian Services. That way, says Swift, each center has representatives who are fully skilled at “counseling abortion-minded women.”
And if a woman does mention an interest in adoption, representatives can refer them elsewhere: “If they talk to someone about adoption and the person is interested, then those centers refer them to an adoption agency.”
Florida law has long mandated that a maximum of 30 percent of funds made off the plates go to counseling centers. But Fasano’s bill would open the door to any amount of funding for the centers, and less money for the physical needs of pregnant women.
Fasano has offered several amendments aimed at ensuring that pregnant women making adoption plans continue to reap benefits from the “Choose Life” plate. But maintaining the 70/30 split remains off the table.
So is Choose Life Georgia a template for how Choose Life Florida will spend its newfound money? Amerling, the president of Choose Life Florida, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but according to Fasano’s office, the answer is no.
“Please remember, that due to the current 70/30 split, there are many areas of the state that this requirement has become problematic,” says Greg Giordano, Fasano’s chief legislative aide. “For whatever reason, the approved agencies are not able to expend the full 70 percent, thus the remaining funds, by law, can’t be touched. Without the ability to advertise, counsel, etc. then it creates a vicious circle. The less people know about the services available the less people will use them. By removing the 70/30 split then the funds become available to access as needed. ”
Giordano says he does not believe that any of the approved or qualified agencies would ever put training, advertising and counseling above the needs of pregnant women.
“Frankly, if an agency is not putting the needs of pregnant women first, then their qualifications to provide services should be removed,” he says. “I believe we all agree that the needs of women must always come first. The agencies just need the ability to provide the supplemental services if there are funds available to do so.”
Giordano also says he doesn’t feel that all centers receiving funds need be an affiliate of a larger organization.
“I think one of the dangers of requiring that all qualified agencies be a part of a larger group is that you probably would lose many good, independent programs,” he says.
“I have no doubt that if [any agency] were engaged in actives that are contrary to the spirit of the Choose Life mission they would not be a qualified agency to begin with,” Giordano continues. “I also have no doubt that if bad actions come to light after they have been qualified then Choose Life would revoke their qualifications.”
Perhaps, but the definition of “the Choose Life mission” remains contested. Many feel that the organization concerns itself more with ending abortion than promoting adoption. Amerling, though, has long maintained that, even with a change in law, funds would continue being used to aid the material needs of pregnant women.