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New law gives permanent state funding to private 'pregnancy centers'

Carolyn Muro, left, looks on as Keisha Walters, 32 of Tampa, holds her daughter, Zeeva Goldsmith, during a visit to the Foundations of Life Pregnancy Center operated by Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg in December 2017. Centers like these will receive permanent funding under a new Florida law. Muro is a mentor at the center, which offers pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, adoption services and general counseling for women who find themselves in an unwanted or unscheduled pregnancy. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Carolyn Muro, left, looks on as Keisha Walters, 32 of Tampa, holds her daughter, Zeeva Goldsmith, during a visit to the Foundations of Life Pregnancy Center operated by Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg in December 2017. Centers like these will receive permanent funding under a new Florida law. Muro is a mentor at the center, which offers pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, adoption services and general counseling for women who find themselves in an unwanted or unscheduled pregnancy. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Mar. 23, 2018

Florida's controversial "pregnancy support centers" will receive permanent state funding under a bill signed into law this week by Gov. Rick Scott.

The new law provides funding for the often faith-based organizations that offer emotional support and limited medical services for unplanned pregnancies — while also working to prevent abortions — through the Florida Department of Health.

The centers are part of the Florida Pregnancy Care Network, which has received more than $21 million in state funding since 2007, according to the health department, including $4 million in the current fiscal year.

With services that range from testing for sexually transmitted diseases to parental counseling, they are largely unregulated and their operations can vary significantly depending on the location. Some employ nurse practitioners or physicians. Others rely on church volunteers to take ultrasound images, provide medical information with sometimes questionable accuracy and deliver an anti-abortion message.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: 'Pregnancy centers' draw scrutiny as lawmakers seek to elevate their status

In previous years, the network would receive funding on an annual contractual basis. Now funding with the health department will be permanent. Health care providers like Planned Parenthood, which offer abortion services, say the pregnancy support centers "use medically inaccurate information to oppose abortion and judge, shame, and mislead women."

"By signing this bill, Gov. Scott is demonstrating a total disregard for the truth, undermining a woman's right to make her own informed medical decisions and denying her the respect and dignity she deserves," said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates in a statement.

The lawmakers who sponsored the bills — Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and state Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa — said the legislation gives pregnant women more choices during a vulnerable in their lives.

The Florida law comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering arguments over a California law requiring pregnancy crisis centers to provide information about contraception and abortion. The decision could impact laws in other states, including Florida.