Florida Republicans will likely hand $25 million to anti-abortion pregnancy centers in the coming days ― and the GOP-controlled state Senate just killed a measure that would have ensured state oversight of those centers.
The $25 million annual allotment of Florida taxpayer money is tucked into the six-week abortion ban that’s quickly moving through the state legislature and could land on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk as early as next week. Democrats know they have little power to stop the bills, so many are filing amendments in an attempt to make a severely restrictive bill less extreme.
Democratic state Sen. Lori Berman filed an amendment to the Senate bill on Wednesday, seeking to impose three requirements on the millions in state funding.
The amendment called for all the organizations that received funding to use “only licensed ultrasound technicians,” comply with patient confidentiality requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and conduct annual financial audits of each organization that receives any of the state funding.
“I would like to enshrine this in law. It shouldn’t be a problem,” Berman said Thursday afternoon on the Senate floor. “As good stewards of our taxpayer dollars, let’s enshrine this in law and make sure that they are doing these things to protect the people who go to the clinics.”
The majority-Republican body voted down the amendment.
“Audits are being done regularly, pursuant to other state law, and these organizations are being held accountable with monthly monitoring,” said Republican Sen. Erin Grall, the sponsor of the bill. “There is not a need for this amendment at this time.”
Republicans argue that the $25 million will be used for services to support pregnant women and their children, including offering critical goods like diapers and formula — which in part may be true. But anti-abortion pregnancy centers, sometimes referred to as crisis pregnancy centers, are known for peddling misinformation based on religious rhetoric that is not medically accurate.
Crisis pregnancy centers are faith-based organizations that claim to offer pregnancy services like pregnancy tests, contraception, prenatal care and, in some cases, abortion services. But pregnant women who come in are discouraged from having abortions and given scientifically inaccurate information by staff that many times do not have medical training or licenses.
As Florida reporters Laura Morel and Clara-Sophia Daly explained last week for the local investigative outlet Reveal, the $25 million in funding does very little to actually fix the systemic problems of crisis pregnancy centers in Florida.
“While the bill would inject millions into the centers’ cause, it does nothing to increase oversight of the pregnancy center industry in Florida,” Morel and Daly wrote. “Most centers operate in a kind of regulatory dead zone, free of significant state and federal oversight. Most states, including Florida, don’t require pregnancy centers that provide medical services to be licensed or inspected. They’re also not required to comply with the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA. In many states, tanning salons, massage parlors and even pet stores face significantly stricter oversight.”
The $25 million will be given annually to the Florida Pregnancy Care Network, which is a statewide alliance of “pregnancy support organizations” that provides services at 100 site locations, according to the group’s website. Although the network’s contract with the state Department of Health prohibits religious coercion, the network spent state funding on educational materials to “create openings for counselors to share Christ” with patients, which was billed as “counseling” to the state of Florida, according to the pro-choice group Floridians for Reproductive Freedom.
“I’m actually not surprised that the party pushing a near-total abortion ban does not want accountability measures in place for the nearly 100 crisis pregnancy centers that operate in this state,” Berman told HuffPost in an emailed statement Thursday evening.
“These are organizations that prey on the emotions of vulnerable, young, low-income women and girls who are simply seeking sound professional, medical advice at a difficult moment in their lives,” she said. “Instead, they’re met with deception, disinformation and, oftentimes, evangelical Christians that outright proselytize to them. These centers will be receiving $25 million under the bill.”
Florida already uses taxpayer dollars to fund crisis pregnancy centers. In 2022, the state gave $4.45 million to anti-abortion pregnancy centers through the Florida Pregnancy Care Network.
About a dozen other states around the country use taxpayer funds toward faith-based crisis pregnancy centers meant to dissuade women from getting abortion care. Texas’ budget includes the most funding for crisis pregnancy centers ― allocating $50 million a year. But the budgets vary: Kansas spends about $338,000 on anti-abortion centers while Pennsylvania spends just under $6 million, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization.
“But $25 million is a lot of money for these kinds of programs,” Elizabeth Nash, a principal policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, told HuffPost.
State lawmakers have tried and failed many times over the years to regulate crisis pregnancy centers to ensure state dollars are being used appropriately. But part of the issue, Nash said, is that the people who are allocating the funding don’t see these requirements as necessary.
“What I’ve observed is that states put money towards anti-abortion centers as a way to say, ‘Look, we’re trying to support people who carry their pregnancies to term, and the word of these organizations is good enough,’” Nash said. “Never mind the fact that anti-abortion centers disparage abortion and contraception and deceive people coming to them who are interested in those services.”
The six-week abortion ban is expected to pass but will not go into effect until the Florida Supreme Court rules on a challenge to the state’s current 15-week ban on abortion.