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Activists call on state to ‘aggressively regulate’ anti-abortion centers

A pro-choice coalition that opposed a law expanding the state’s hand in crisis pregnancy centers that do not offer abortion services isn’t giving up the fight despite the law already coming into effect.

Representatives from Progress Florida, the Florida National Organization for Women and the Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health were in Tallahassee on Tuesday to deliver petitions to Gov. Rick Scott’s office and the office of Dr. Celeste Philip, surgeon general and secretary of the state Department of Health, imploring the officials to “aggressively regulate fake clinics’ utilization of tax dollars,” according to a Progress Florida news release. The groups routinely refer to the crisis pregnancy centers as fake clinics because they only appear to offer abortion services.

The petition — complete with more than 5,500 signatures — is a suggested addendum to a new law that took effect at the beginning of the month. Created by the passage of HB 41, the law requires DOH to contract with Florida Pregnancy Care Network (FPCN) to provide contract management services for the Florida Pregnancy Support Services Program (FPSSP) — both promote and encourage childbirth. The law codified FPSSP in statutes and requires the FPCN, which has an existing relationship with the state, to contract with DOH on behalf of FPSSP. Attached to the new law is a recurring $4 million appropriation.

According to Amy Weintraub, Reproductive Rights Program director with Progress Florida, the new law “basically put these clinics under the auspices of the Florida Department of Health.”

Pro-choice advocates had largely opposed the bill while it moved through the 2018 Session, fearing it would further restrict women’s access to abortion. Now that the law is in place, the same interests are looking to make sure it’s regulated. 

The petition demands that the health department provide current and accurate information, provide references to medical claims, and obtain background screenings for all staff members who work for FPSSP and FPCN.

The petition also calls on DOH to provide services in a non-coercive manner and exclude religious content in their services, both of which are provisions provided by the bill as written.

“We will be there to make sure that there are no coercive methods being used on young women or any women who go into these clinics because we know there have been in the past,” Florida NOW lobbyist Barbara DeVane said. “You can be sure that we will be sure that you are following the law at the Department of Health.”

Pastor Jennifer Kopacz with the Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health said her group supports upholding the right for each individual to make reproductive decisions, whether they be rooted in faith or science.

“The fake clinics we are protesting today deny women much of the information they truly need to make decisions regarding their health, their families and their lives,” Kopacz said.

Written By

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at dmcauliffe500@gmail.com.

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