PHOENIX — Abortion foes are trying to get state tax dollars to fund private organizations that will urge women not to terminate their pregnancies.
Legislation set for debate in the House and Senate would set aside $2.5 million to a single nonprofit organization to provide both direct services and referral information to parents, including those of unborn children. It spells out the funds can be spent to encourage healthy child birth, promote family formation and “support child birth as an alternative to abortion.”
And if that last provision is unclear, the language of SB 1547 and HB 2759 specifically bars the organization that will get the state grant from providing prospective parents with all their options.
It spells out that no money can be used to refer women to places that perform abortions. And groups that promote, refer or perform abortions are ineligible for applying.
Jodi Liggett, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said that shows the proponents are interested in spreading just one message — and doing it with taxpayer dollars.
She said the wording is designed to ensure the funds will go to a “crisis pregnancy center.”
“Crisis pregnancy centers, in general, have a record of providing incomplete information,” Liggett said.
“Several are unabashedly pro life,” she continued. “So they are steering women toward one decision and one decision only instead of neutrally providing all the options that are available.”
But Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy that is pushing the legislation, said she has no problem with that — or with using state funds to promote that goal.
“Arizona is a state that values life, and values providing life-affirming alternatives to women,” she said. “This is providing needed services to women so they are aware of the alternatives that are available to them rather than having an abortion.”
Anyway, Herrod said, there already are other organizations that can refer women to places that provide abortions.
“But this is about providing alternatives to abortion,” she said.
She said what’s being proposed here is not unique.
“The program in Texas has found that the majority of women who are considering abortion are doing so because of social or economic challenges,” Herrod said. “Out of those women, 76 percent said they would continue that pregnancy if not for those challenges.”
Liggett, however, said if Arizona lawmakers are interested in preventing abortions there are better alternatives.
“If they’re going to spend money, shouldn’t it be on the prevention end?” she asked. Liggett said the state spends no money at all on things like birth control, family planning, “things that would prevent a pregnancy in the first place.”
Liggett also pointed out that lawmakers actually had an opportunity to provide $1.5 million to the Department of Economic Security to create a statewide information and referral service not just for health care but also for community and governmental services. Those dollars would have been given to an entity to set up a 2-1-1 service, taking advantage of the Federal Communications Commission designating that number for universal information and referral services.
But the proposal by Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, never made it to the full Senate, at least in part because Herrod insisted that language be inserted to specifically bar callers from getting information about abortions or entities that provide abortion.