Oklahoma lawmakers this year were forced to slash the state budget in response to a budget crisis caused by massive tax cuts passed by Republicans, and the state’s public teachers are contemplating a labor strike,
Meanwhile, the GOP-dominated legislature in the midst of this budgetary mayhem has found a way to carve out almost $1 million in state funds for fake clinics, so-called crisis pregnancy centers that use anti-choice propaganda to dissuade people from seeking abortion care. If approved, Oklahoma would become latest state to provide taxpayer dollars to fake clinics.
Organizations that would be eligible for the state funding don’t offer family planning services or birth control, despite claims to the contrary from anti-choice legislators determined to fill the coffers of groups opposed to contraception and abortion care.
Fake clinics will receive an unprecedented $40.5 million in taxpayer dollars from 14 states this fiscal year—even as lawmakers in these states slash funding for public health initiatives and increase requirements for people with low incomes to access public assistance programs.
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Tamya Cox, regional director of public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, told Rewire.News it was “disappointing” that state lawmakers would consider directing state or federal funds to organizations that don’t provide comprehensive health care.
“It is irresponsible for our legislators to divert any money to these fake clinics,” Cox said.
HB 3676, sponsored by state Rep. Kevin Calvey (R-Oklahoma City), would require the state to direct $975,000 in federal funding to the Choosing Childbirth Act, a program that provides grants to organizations that offer services that “assist women to carry their children to term.”
The bill was passed by the house with a 54-15 vote, and is pending before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Calvey has said that the program intended to provide funding to organizations that provide assistance for “poor vulnerable women,” but it is unclear how organizations that provide limited services will serve low-income communities.
Oklahoma has the second highest rate of teen pregnancy in the United States, more than half of the of births in the state are covered by Medicaid, and more than half of pregnancies in the state are unintended.
Gayla White, director of Hope Pregnancy Centers and the coordinator of Pregnancy Resource Network, told Rewire.News that the bill would “give equal support and representation to organizations” that don’t provide abortion care, such as Planned Parenthood.
“Since pregnancy help centers provide needed and valuable services to women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, the opportunity to be reimbursed for medical services would expand the number of women who could be served and perhaps the scope of services,” White said.
However, Hope Pregnancy Centers, a ministry of Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children (OBHC), will not apply for the grants. White said the privately funded organization is “not interested in receiving government monies.”
Hope Pregnancy Centers has five locations and a $1.6 million operating budget, according to the organization’s financial disclosures.
The state has provided limited funding for fake clinics through the Alternatives to Abortion program.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) awarded contracts to nongovernmental health care and special service organizations to provide “services that promote childbirth instead of abortion.”
The OSDH in 2010 awarded $40,000 in three-year contracts to organizations to provide medical care, nutritional services, housing services, parenting education and support services, and education and support services. OSDH awarded two $2,500 contracts to provide services during June 2017. During the contract period, eight people were provided services, according to the program’s annual report.
The original language of the bill required OSDH to use federal family planning funds from Title X grants, which would represent nearly a quarter of the $4,456,000 in funds the state is set to receive during 2018.
The bill was amended to fund the program from the approximately $19 million the state receives through the Title XX of the Social Security Act, the Social Services Block Grant program.
This dynamic—conservative lawmakers using state and federal money to fund groups hostile to reproductive health care—has played out in other states with GOP-held legislatures.
Calvey said during a state House Rules Committee hearing that bill is based on a program “that has had great success in the state of Texas for a number of years.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in June signed an appropriations bill allocating $38.3 million over two years for the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program, after the GOP-held legislature approved an amendment to more than double the program’s funding.
A Rewire.News investigation found organizations that were awarded funds through the Texas program offered limited services to clients and most of the funding was not used for concrete assistance or services.
Calvey said during the house floor debate that the purpose of the bill was to provide funding for “life-affirming” organizations that provide “things to assist women in getting to term with a child, but in a way that’s not going to promote abortion.”
Calvey, who provides free legal services for “several Oklahoma pregnancy resource centers,” often cites Birth Choice of Oklahoma as an example of the type of organization that provides “life-affirming” serves.
Calvey’s mother, Mary Jane Calvey, also serves on the Board of Directors of Birth Choice of Oklahoma.
Barbara Chishko, executive director of Birth Choice of Oklahoma, told Rewire.News that the potential state funding the organization may be eligible to receive would be of “tremendous” assistance, and could be used to hire more staff and provide more training for the nurses who volunteer to provide ultrasounds.
Democratic lawmakers questioned the siphoning of federal dollars intended for family planning services, and were skeptical of Calvey’s claims about the types of assistance and services offered by organizations eligible for the grants.
Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) during the floor debate asked Calvey whether eligible organizations provide comprehensive family planning services. Virgin questioned whether the organizations offer free birth control.
“I think most of them do, not necessarily all, but I think most of them do,” Calvey said.
None of the organizations that would be eligible to receive grants make it readily apparent on their websites that they offer birth control or family planning services, according to a review of websites from 47 organizations identified by Rewire.News.
Additionally, none of the more than 30 organizations affiliated with the Pregnancy Resource Network list birth control or family planning services among the services they offer, and at least one organization explicitly states that it does not “offer or refer for pregnancy terminations or birth control.”
Birth Choice does not offer any type of birth control and provides only limited counseling on “natural family planning” for married women.
Chishko likened the use of birth control to abortion, a common anti-choice myth. “The main reason is that so many of the artificial methods of birth control that are on the market today are abortifacients,” Chishko said. “The pill, the IUD, the Norplant, the Depo-Provera, all of those.”
Cox said some people are under the impression that they can receive comprehensive health care services, including birth control and family planning, at these anti-choice facilities.
“They do not provide the options, and any money from state funding should give someone all of the options that are available to them,” Cox said. “From birth control, to abortion care, to continuing their pregnancy.”