With the announcement of a piece of legislation that would change the way funds from Florida’s “Choose Life” specialty license plates are distributed, many have raised questions about where the funds currently go. Still others are raising questions about where the funds don’t go — to women who choose not to have an abortion, but don’t give up their babies for adoption.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-, New Port Richey, is currently sponsoring a piece of legislation — Senate Bill 196 (.pdf) — that would change where the money made off the plates ends up, taking it out of the hands of Florida counties and putting it in the hands of Choose Life, Inc., the nonprofit that created the plates.

But some pregnancy center staffers have raised questions about Fasano’s legislation — specifically the line stating that funds must go to organizations supporting “pregnant women that are making an adoption plan for their children.” Currently, the law states that funds should go to organizations helping women who are “committed to placing their children for adoption.”

The issue, according to critics of Choose Life, is that the law stipulates that women receiving funds must give up their children for adoption. Agencies interested in helping meet the needs of women who wish to keep their babies — who, after all, are also “choosing life” — are left out of the equation entirely.

One woman involved in the distribution of “Choose Life” funds at the county level, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed concern with Fasano adding the adoption provision to the legislation.

“The money should go to babies. That’s really who the money is intended for … to improve their quality of life,” she says. “Does it matter that the child is adopted or not? There’s a monetary incentive in our country, because of welfare, to keep your baby, but the ‘Choose Life’ funds don’t go to agencies that help those women, who could also, desperately, use it. So my question is: Is ‘Choose Life’ really about adoption or abortion?”

Greg Giordano, Fasano’s chief legislative assistant, says that the Fasano-sponsored law is strictly meant to help those planning to put their children up for adoption.

“The legislation isn’t meant to support women who are choosing to keep their baby. It has nothing to do with women on welfare,” he says. “It is meant to support adoption as an alternative to something far worse. Essentially, the changes are meant to expand how these women are supported before and after giving birth.”

Cindy Devine, executive director of the Pregnancy and Family Life Center in Citrus County, says her group has been unable to access “Choose Life” funds for this very reason.

“We brought 90 new babies into the world last year and we work with people from the ages of 14 to 67, including grandparents caring for their grandchildren,” she says. “These are women that are in desperate situations, and they could really use some of that funding. There’s no question that they’re choosing life, but they want to keep their babies in their family.”

Devine’s center applied to be a part of the “Choose Life” program, but, since none of their clients has chosen to give her baby up for adoption, they were denied. “The license plates are really a misnomer,” she says. “They should say, ‘Choose Adoption.’”

Russ Amerling, of Choose Life, Inc., says that he has gotten requests that the legislation be changed to include pregnancy centers that don’t strictly deal with adoption.

“We’ve thought about that,” he says. “I’ve heard from many centers that say they hardly ever have anyone who wishes to place their baby up for adoption. But if we decided to just help any woman who was pregnant, the money would be gone in the first month.”

Amerling is hopeful that a changed law will mean more adoption-oriented centers will thrive in a harsh economy. If the law is altered, Choose Life, Inc. will receieve the funds directly, and be able to expand its board of directors as well as advertise its plates.

Amerling is quick to say, however, that the funds will still be distributed in a process similar to the one currently in place. Centers wishing to receieve funds will apply and, if they meet the criteria, can access them to provide for the needs of pregnant women.

The only other changes will be that more money can go to counseling centers — as the law is currently written, only 30 percent can go to counseling services — and the birth mother will continue receiving help for 60 days after the birth. As Amerling says, changes are merely meant to expand the benefits for the birth mother, and ensure the child a healthy birth and home. “Ultimately, you are a good mother if you do what’s best for the child,” he says.

Amerling says that the goal of Choose Life is to change women’s attitudes about keeping their babies. “We are after the women that say, ‘I can’t parent this child, therefore I am going to abort this child,’” he says. “We want to offer women another choice and the resources to help them make that choice. There are already a myriad of choices for women wishing to keep their babies.”

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