PHOENIX (AP) — An anti-abortion group is trying again this year to get Arizona lawmakers to fund a service designed to persuade women not to seek an abortion after it was narrowly rejected in 2019.
The proposal approved by a House committee Thursday and a Senate panel earlier in the week would provide $3 million over two years for programs seeking to identify women considering abortion and help change their minds by providing support and other services.
A similar proposal, designed to funnel $2.5 million to a nonprofit that provides the services, failed in the Senate in the waning days of the 2019 session after two Republican senators joined all Democrats in opposition. All 31 House Republicans had backed the measure.
GOP Sens. Kate Brophy McGee and Heather Carter objected. Both said they were opposed abortion. They mainly objected to spending millions for the anti-abortion service when their request for only about $1 million to fund a nonprofit hotline that offers referrals for a myriad of services did not make the cut.
This year’s proposal gives that hotline, called the 211 service, $1.5 million in the coming budget year. That may work to get at least Brophy McGee’s support, although she called it “an unholy compromise” that she still may not back.
Carter remains firmly against the measure, saying before she voted against it in committee this week that there were several programs designed to help pregnant or new mothers that need the funding much more. She was the only Republican in either committee to oppose the measure.
“If we want to talk about making sure that women who are pregnant have a successful pregnancy, a healthy pregnancy, we should do everything we can to make sure they (get) the services they need to bring their child to full term and thrive once they’re born,” Carter said.
Republicans who hold majorities in both chambers routinely pass anti-abortion legislation, which GOP Gov. Doug Ducey signs. Last year saw the rare exception to the rule, when the anti-abortion marketing bill backed by the Center for Arizona Policy failed.
CAP President Cathi Herrod was incensed, saying after that vote that the Legislature was no longer “pro-life.” She pulled back a bit in an interview Thursday, saying there are now “tight margins” in the House and Senate as far as support for anti-abortion legislation is concerned.
The proposal now heading to the full Senate and House sets up a “family health pilot program” to support childbirth as an alternative to abortion and helps mothers get needed support. A similar program is run in Texas by a group called Human Coalition and is thought to be the model for the Arizona proposal.
The proposal also provides money for the 211 referral service, but it bans any referrals to medical providers that also provide abortion services.
“When these women have been reached with a similar program in other states, these women have decided to carry their babies to term,” Herrod said. “This should be a common ground issue – this is about reaching women, providing services for women. It’s not about any of the red-herring arguments being thrown against the bill.”
Those arguments come from Democrats, Planned Parenthood of Arizona, the American Civil Liberties Union and others. They say the group acts much like a “crisis pregnancy centers,” operations marketed as providing abortion counseling that work to get women to change their minds. They also worry about data collected by Human Coalition that they say is used to bombard women with ads, emails and phone calls.
Democratic Rep. Athena Salman said the Human Coalition “just lies and defrauds women.” Salman said she is particularly upset about the “gag rule” preventing referrals for health care.
“It’s just absolutely unethical to be gaslighting and lying to women like this,” Salman said. “And the state should not be endorsing this kind of practice.”
The proposal now goes to the full House and Senate for consideration.
House Bill 2388
appropriations; direct services; referrals