Since Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his 2011-2012 budget proposal last month, questions have swirled about what his recommendations might mean for particular state programs. According to state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, one controversial program — which provides taxpayer dollars to crisis pregnancy centers that have been found to disseminate disputed information about abortion — lives on in Scott’s budget.
Plakon, a vocal supporter of the crisis pregnancy network, tells The Florida Independent that the state’s Pregnancy Support Services Program is fully funded under Scott’s budget proposal. He says the program would be transferred out of the Department of Health and into the Department of Children and Families.
Plakon emphasizes that he neither endorses nor opposes Scott’s proposal to transfer the program, saying that the state House — which has historically been supportive of the program — is currently developing its own budget.
The program was created by an executive order under then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005 and currently supports about 70 pregnancy centers located throughout the state. According to then-Gov. Charlie Crist’s 2009 budget, the program exists to provide counseling, support services and accurate medical information to women in crisis pregnancies.
In October 2010, the Independent obtained Department of Health records that show that oversight of the state-funded and often faith-based crisis pregnancy clinic chain mainly rests in the hands of the two organizations contracted by the state to run those clinics — the nonprofit Florida Pregnancy Care Network and the for-profit Uzzell Group.
The Independent documented at length that pregnancy centers supported by taxpayer dollars distribute information that links abortion to grave mental health consequences like clinical depression, suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse — information that has been disputed by scientific organizations.
The Department of Health documents show that Pregnancy Care Network site reviews for 2009-2010 indicated that 27 pregnancy centers needed to develop a procedure for reviewing and verifying the accuracy of materials and information given to clients.
Department officials, in charge of the Pregnancy Support Services Program, never responded to various requests from the Independent to discuss the agency’s oversight of the accuracy of the information given out at the centers.
“There is ongoing oversight of this program,” Plakon says when asked about that point. “It sounds like an ongoing improvement of the program.” He says that crisis pregnancy centers are “allowed in their non-governmental section to put out literature that is paid separately from the government funds to talk about faith-based ideas.”
When asked how the Department of Health verifies that state money isn’t spent on religious information or practice Plakon says, “In my meetings with them they are very, very careful.”
“They are fully aware there has to be segmentation between the faith-based component and the government component,” he says. “They understand the importance of segmenting those two approaches in their facilities and their activities. Now, if there is an occasional lapse, I’m sure that [the Department of Health], the Pregnancy Care Network and Uzzell would be all over that.”