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Controversial Bill Regulating Fla. Pregnancy Support Services Heads To Senate Floor

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Florida lawmakers appear to be fast tracking a controversial bill that seeks to regulate the state’s pregnancy crisis centers. The measure that wades into the abortion debate has already passed the Florida House and is now heading to the Senate floor.

Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) is the bill’s Senate sponsor.

“SB 444 codifies in statute the existing pregnancy support services program, which has been funded by the state’s since the 2005-2006 fiscal year,” he said. The program provides pregnancy support and wellness services program awareness activities and communications activities through a statewide alliance. The bill directs the Department of Health to contract with the Pregnancy Care Support Network, and create contract deliverables for the program, including financial reports, staffing requirements, and timeframes for achieving obligations.”

The goal, supporters say, is to not only provide millions in funds, but to also the regulate state’s pregnancy crisis centers that provide support and wellness services. But, it comes with one caveat that many opponents disagree with.

“The network is to contract only with providers who exclusively promote and support childbirth,” added Bean.

That means it could preclude groups that provide information on birth control and abortion services, like Planned Parenthood, from receiving any state funds.

Opponents of the measure say that means it picks winners and losers.

“I questioned some of the people that came in the Healthcare committee, and they told me they do not provide contraceptive services,” said Rep. Lori Berman (D-Lantana), who’s against the measure. “I can’t imagine someone getting healthcare information and not having access to something as basic as contraceptive services. This legislation does not attempt to solve the documented problem of the crisis pregnancy centers providing inaccurate and incomplete medical information. Instead of funding these crisis pregnancy centers, we should be addressing the issue of misleading women and not providing medically accurate information.”

But, the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa), says that’s not the case.

“As a mother, I can’t imagine not knowing where to turn if I was pregnant, and not knowing who to turn to and having the support needed,” she said, before her bill passed the House last Friday. “This is not about picking winners and losers. This bill is about more choices, not less. This bill is about more access, not less.”

Still, some bill supporters say it’s a fair point to note that no other state agency is directed to contract with a particular entity in perpetuity.

“Well, my understanding of the explanation of the bill today was that there’s an entity that includes several different sub-entities, but you know what? It’s a fair question, and it’s certainly something I look forward to addressing when this bill makes it up to the floor,” said Sen Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island).

And, after passing the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, the bill is now headed to the Senate floor.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.