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Anti-abortion groups get big boost in state budget

Abortion-rights demonstrators celebrate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2016 that overturned a Texas law that was blamed for closing most of the abortion clinics in the state.
Abortion-rights demonstrators celebrate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2016 that overturned a Texas law that was blamed for closing most of the abortion clinics in the state. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Counseling clinics that discourage women from getting abortions would receive a big boost in state financial support in the budget the General Assembly approved this week.

The money will help them buy ultrasound equipment, and launch a “continuum of care” pilot project in Raleigh.

The groups call themselves “pregnancy resource centers.” They used to be called “crisis pregnancy centers,” and have long been the bane of abortion-rights advocates, who say they mislead pregnant women into thinking they are abortion clinics, and then try to coerce them out of the procedure.

The groups dispute that and say they are simply helping women at a difficult time.

The Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, an umbrella group of about 65 clinics in North Carolina, has received in the state budget $300,000 a year for the past several years. This year that amount shot up to $1.9 million for that group and another, paying for equipment purchase, training, a pilot program and for two specific clinics.

▪ $800,000 goes to the Fellowship for ultrasound equipment to distribute to clinics that apply for them.

▪ Up to $170,000 for the organization to provide grants for training on the equipment.

▪ Up to $30,000 for the group’s administration.

▪ $300,000 for an organization called Human Coalition to develop a pilot program at its Raleigh clinic.

▪ $450,000 for the H.E.L.P. Center Inc., which provides services for pregnant women who are under insured or don’t quality for prenatal health care.

▪ $100,000 for the Coastal Pregnancy Center in Beaufort County.

The extra money was not in the Senate budget, but came from the House. Rep. Deb Butler, a Wilmington Democrat, tried on the House floor to cut the funding back to $300,000 and give the rest of the money to state-run drug and alcohol abuse treatment centers, but her amendment was defeated.

“I can’t find much transparency or accountability from the crisis pregnancy centers,” Butler said. “I have not heard any identified rationale for the quadrupling of their funding. There are more urgent, critical and expensive challenges facing us in North Carolina.”

The abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-choice North Carolina and liberal advocacy group Progress N.C. released a joint statement opposing the funding.

“Time and time again Crisis Pregnancy Centers have been revealed to provide false information about both abortion and birth control,” said Tara Romano, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-choice NC. “It’s outrageous that our legislature would increase these centers’ funding without also creating a mechanism to hold them accountable.”

But the anti-abortion groups dispute that characterization. They say they are up-front with the women who contact them, and are just making sure they fully understand their options.

“We work with her through some of those hard decisions,” Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship state director Bobbie Meyer said Friday. “That might be housing, their lives are in a shambles, the lack of stable support. The opportunity to give some more long-term support is part of what’s prompting the Human Coalition pilot project. We affirm what they’re doing.”

Human Coalition is a Texas-based group that says it is one of the largest anti-abortion groups in the country. It has established an office in Raleigh, and earlier this year hired a lobbyist.

The pilot project will develop a program to assign coordinators to work with pregnant clients to guide them through the ramifications of her decision about whether to have an abortion or not, and what services are available, according to spokeswoman Lauren Enriquez. Each “care plan” is tailored to the individual, and includes establishing a support network, and financial advice and job training.

Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to veto the budget, but the legislature has enough votes to override it.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

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