Health services for low-income women and children in Florida took a big hit this year. Millions of dollars that once went to things like prenatal care and family planning services have been slashed in an effort to reduce state spending. Gov. Rick Scott called a handful of new health care projects “special interest waste.” One of the more controversial special interest projects of this Legislature, its network of crisis pregnancy centers, has not lost a dime in state funding since starting up in 2005.
Crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs, are mostly religious centers aimed at dissuading women from having an abortion. Some Florida centers were even found to distribute inaccurate information about abortion to women seeking help in the centers.
A summary report of the Florida Pregnancy Support Services Program for 2009-2010 describes it as “a program [that] provides support services to pregnant women in an effort to encourage them to continue their pregnancies to childbirth, whether that is to parent the child or have an adoption plan.”
The same document states that “the two million dollar funding amount [for crisis pregnancy centers] has stayed constant since 2005-06. In 2007-08, the Legislature changed the funding from non-recurring General Revenue to recurring General Revenue.”
While the switch from “non-recurring” to “recurring General Revenue” usually indicates the budget line has become a part of the state budget that does not need to be debated each year, this has not been the case. Democrats opposed to the largely GOP-championed centers have challenged those funding amounts for years.
Besides pregnancy testing and “counseling,” crisis pregnancy centers do not provide much in the way of health care services. Some crisis pregnancy centers have been found to withhold pertinent health information from women seeking help. Most centers have to refer patients to other state-funded programs such as Healthy Start for actual health services. Healthy Start was among the slew of services that lost a lot of funding during this past legislative session.
The biggest proponent of state funding for these centers has been state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood. Plakon is a founding board member of a crisis pregnancy center in Winter Park called A Safe Harbor. He vehemently defended funding for the centers during challenges to them two years ago. But as The Florida Independent has previously reported, other lawmakers have ties to crisis pregnancy centers, too.
State Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, tells the Independent that every year for the past few years there has been a challenge to the funding amount for crisis pregnancy centers. ”Republicans kill [the amendments] every time, though,” he says.
Florida is among 20 states that fund these centers with state money. Some states, such as Missouri, only provide tax breaks for the centers. In Florida, crisis pregnancy centers also receive funds from the sale of Choose Life, Inc. license plates.
According to the Florida Department of Health, a total of 54 agencies with 82 sites participate in Florida’s pregnancy support services program.