The Florida House is forging ahead with a measure funneling millions of dollars to a pregnancy support organization that opposes abortion. The move could sideline Planned Parenthood.
Florida’s health department relies on contracts with third party organizations to provide various services.
“Well in our area in Southwest and Central Florida we see about almost 5,000 patients a year for new patient visits, and about 6,500 for ongoing patients,” regional Planned Parenthood CEO Barbara Zdravecky explained last year from the steps of the federal court house in Tallahassee.
Her organization has had a target on its back in recent years as GOP-controlled state legislatures have taken steps to undermine the group. She was at the courthouse to contest one of those measures, cancelling longstanding contracts to provide non-abortion services. The judge’s ruling largely dismantled the law and cleared the way to renew the contracts. Now the state Legislature is trying a different tack.
“Bottom line this bill is about providing more access not less,” Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) says. “It’s about providing more services not less. And it’s about providing more choices, not less.”
Toledo is a mother of five, and her measure looks to the Florida Pregnancy Care Network to deliver those benefits. Providers in the network offer pregnancy testing and connect pregnant women with various services including medical referrals. What they don’t do is refer women to abortion providers, and Democrats raise a number of concerns. Rep. Lori Berman (D-Lantana) argues it duplicates an existing program.
“There is $60 million annually allocated to the Healthy Start program,” Berman says, “And the Healthy Start program counsels women before, during and after pregnancy. The main different between that program and this program is that this program promotes an anti-choice message.”
Rep. Amy Mercado (D-Orlando) questions sending state dollars to an organization offering referrals rather than healthcare.
“Why have and fund facilities that offer no credible medical services to women who need medically accurate information and service?” she asks.
And Aventura Democrat Joe Geller sees the organization as pursuing a religious agenda even if the bill blocks providers from discussing religion.
“Unfortunately I continue to be troubled by the fact that I view this as potentially providing state support for what are really religious based activities,” Geller says.
Toledo’s measure doesn’t prohibit contracting with Planned Parenthood—it just directs state health officials to contract with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network going forward. The House and Senate budgets set aside 4 million dollars to support the initiative—to this point lawmakers have doled out funding on a pay-as-you-go basis. The proposal sets up the kind of ongoing financial obligation House Speaker Richard Corcoran has railed against. The House approved the measure largely along party lines.