Bill providing state-funded pregnancy care passes House committee

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
November 14, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- A bill to use state funding for pregnancy care created a stir in the Florida House committee Tuesday morning as religion and a woman's right to choose took center stage in the debate.

More than 45,000 Floridians were served by 105 pregnancy centers around the state in 2016.

Florida has been providing about $4 million to the program each year. Now, several lawmakers are looking to make that funding permanent.

Part of providers' contract with the state forbids them from pressuring patients with religion. Testimony before a House committee Tuesday morning suggested some clinics may not be following the rules.

"The only thing I felt would help me get out of that tiny room as fast as possible was to agree with everything that the woman was saying," said Jennifer Rodriquez, a Florida State University graduate student. "She said, 'You believe abortion is a sin, right?'"

"This woman met me five minutes ago, who was she to ask me this?" Rodriquez continued.

Since the state started funding the Florida Pregnancy Care Network, no formal complaints have been received.

In the meeting, a care provider admitted to offering religious materials and guidance to those who requested them.

"We're going to try and encourage them to make life affirming choices," said Ryan Sprague, the CEO of the Pregnancy Help and Information Center. "But anybody can walk out of our office anytime they want to and no one has to come back."

Democratic representatives say, in addition to religious concerns, the centers limit the choices of women.

"We heard from a clinic provider that he doesn't even provide contraceptive alternatives," said Rep. Lori Berman.

Bill sponsor Jackie Toledo says women looking for those options can go somewhere else.

"These centers are to promote child birth," Toledo explained.

The Florida pregnancy support services program never had to bid for a state contract. If the bill becomes law, they would keep it indefinitely.

The bill heads straight for the House floor after being approved by its only committee meeting on Tuesday.

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