While cutting appropriations for essential social programs and services, the recently released House and Senate budget proposals both include increased funding for the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship. This anti-abortion organization sustains more than half of North Carolina's so-called crisis pregnancy centers.
Even as most other institutions in the state, including our public schools, are being forced to contend with shrinking appropriations, legislators have proposed increasing funding for the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship from $250,000 to $300,000. North Carolina has more than 120 CPCs, which masquerade as medical facilities, with fancy ultrasound machines and staff members wearing scrubs and lab coats. Yet the vast majority employ no trained medical professionals. Their goal is ideological not medical — to convince women not to terminate their pregnancies and to dissuade them from using birth control.
CPCs not only refuse to provide or refer for abortion care or birth control, their staff frequently give women medically inaccurate information. Many CPCs tell their clients that abortion causes breast cancer and future miscarriages (it does not) and that no method of birth control is effective. The deception lies not only in the tactics used by CPCs but in the way the legislature is portraying its support of these centers. The increased funding comes out of a block grant designated to protect "maternal and child health."
If Republicans truly cared about maternal and child health, they would help women obtain comprehensive medical treatment from trained professionals, as well as income support, housing assistance, legal protections, education and child care services. These are the essential building blocks of women's health, not misleading information and outright lies.
The House insisted on protecting CPCs' efforts to provide biased care, defeating an amendment that would have made sure the funding only supported programs that provide comprehensive, non-directive reproductive health care counseling. Meanwhile, the Senate is forging ahead with proposed cuts to essential services. The state's refusal to expand Medicaid has left more than half a million North Carolinians uninsured. And the proposed Senate budget includes the increased tightening of eligibility standards for Medicaid and significant cuts to programs that serve children, the elderly and the disabled. Women not only benefit from these programs, they are often the ones who staff them as home health aides, school nurses and day care workers. Reducing spending will jeopardize increasing numbers of North Carolinians' health and put more women out of jobs.
This is not the first time the legislature has tried to deceive the public. Less than a year ago, the Senate tried to create rules that would require abortion clinics to meet license standards similar to those of ambulatory surgical centers. Only one abortion facility in the state currently meets these standards, which are not necessary for a simple medical procedure such as abortion and are not required for other types of outpatient surgery. Republicans hid the ambulatory surgical center provision in an Islamic law bill and introduced it on a Tuesday evening without informing the public. However, the true intent became clear when anti-abortion organizations such as the N.C. Values Coalition, the N.C. Family Policy Council and N.C. Right to Life descended on Raleigh to lobby and testify in favor of the new rules.
It's time to stop the deception and back-door tactics. If the legislature is going to insist on taking money from essential health care services to fund sham clinics that provide patients with false information, Republicans need to admit that women's health is not their true priority. Pregnant women in North Carolina deserve honest health care delivered by medical professionals. And our government needs to stop diverting the money for their care to pay for propaganda dressed up in lab coats.
Lisa Levenstein is an associate professor of U.S. women's history at UNCG. A version of this column first appeared in The News & Observer of Raleigh.