A revived bill that wades into the abortion debate has passed its first Florida Senate Committee, but not without opposition.
In March 2014, Annie Filkowski says she visited one of Florida’s crisis pregnancy centers in Fort Myers.
“I was 16-years-old and scared,” she said. “There’s a chance I could have been pregnant due to lack of sex education in public high school. In fear of asking my mom about the birds and the bees, I was scared, confused, and I didn’t know where to go. Every day, on my way to school, I would pass this clinic that said, ‘free pregnancy tests.’ So, I went in.”
At first, Filkowski says when she walked in, she felt at ease.
“When we walked in, I assumed the women at the front desk were friendly,” she added. “They were nurses. They were wearing scrubs. They asked why I was there, and responded in a sympathetic manner. The room they took me into looked nothing like any doctor’s office I’d ever been in before. It looked more like a therapist office. There was one big couch, a love seat, a tissue box, and a Bible.”
But, as she awaited the results of the pregnancy test, Filkowski says her experience soon changed, when a woman came into the room to ask her questions.
“And, she asked me questions like, ‘if you’re pregnant, do you know who the father is?’ She asked me his first and last name,” Filkowski continued. “She asked, ‘what’s the extent of your relationship?’ She told me, ‘You aren’t supposed to have sex until marriage, but if you do, you should be in love and in a committed relationship, right?’ She made me feel guilty. The woman came back, and she had the test results. Like anyone in my position would be, I was incredibly anxious, and I wanted to know. Before telling me the results, she asked me what my religious affiliation was. I told her I was raised Catholic, but I wouldn’t identify with any religion at this point. She gave me a pamphlet about Christianity. I reminded her why I was there and I wanted to know what the result of the test was. It was negative.”
But, even after finding out she wasn’t pregnant, Filkowski says the woman didn’t let up.
“The woman then began to give me a lesson on abstinence, and how I can still be saved, despite the mistakes I’ve made,” she concluded. “She gave me all sorts of pamphlets: abstinence, Christianity, adoption, the horrors of abortion. She went on to explain that the only form of birth control was abstinence, and that all other forms cause cancer and can kill you. At the end of it all, she reminded me that she had all my information, and would be notifying my family and my school about my visit. I hope that no one else has to go through this coercive and inaccurate experience.”
“Not all pregnancy centers are part of the network,” Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach). “There are 61 contracted vendors with the Department of Health within that network. But, I don’t know the circumstances. I’d hate for anybody to have a bad experience.”
Bean is sponsoring a bill opposed by Filkowski that involves Florida’s pregnancy support services.
It was created by the Florida legislature in 2005 to provide counseling and support services to pregnant women, like free pregnancy testing, adoption, and referrals to community services.
Every year, since 2006, lawmakers have included in the budget between $2 and $4 million for the program, but the program itself was never an official Florida law.
So, Bean’s bill would not only put the Florida Pregnancy Support Services program on the books, it would also provide some regulation for the contractors receiving state funds.
“The bill requires the contract to include accountability measures, and periodic reports,” Bean added. “Contractors are required to have proper education certification and licensure. Any material given out by these centers needs to be current and accurate. Any information of a medical nature must cite its source. DOH has authority under the contract to monitor the contract and subcontractors for any of its infractions, as we do with all other contracts the Department of Health or other agencies maintain.”
The measure has the backing of groups like Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.
And, while Planned Parenthood has no problems with the state regulation, the group does have concerns about at least one particular provision in the bill.
It directs the Department of Health to “subcontract only with providers that exclusively promote and support childbirth.”
That means it could preclude groups that provide information on birth control and abortion services, like Planned Parenthood, from receiving any state funds.
Other opponents, like Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation), say they don’t believe some of these crisis centers are providing medically accurate information either.
“Unfortunately, I had to accompany a friend to a pregnancy crisis center a few weeks ago. And, so, I have some of the material that were handed to a friend of mine. So, do abortions cause breast cancer,” she asked a Florida Department of Health administrator during the Senate Health Policy Committee.
While Book never got her questioned answered during the bill’s first Senate hearing, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) says she feels the bill will do a good job of providing proper oversight.
“It has not had statutory oversight,” said Passidomo. “So, when you think about it…if these organizations are giving inaccurate information, they don’t have the state behind stopping this practice. So, my feeling is if we codify the practice, what we’re doing with the Department of Health having a mandate to review these materials, then you will have medically accurate materials because there’s much more gravitas to the fact that is a statutory program.”
Meanwhile, Bean carried a similar bill in the Senate during this past legislative session, but it died in the committee process. While his current measure has passed its first Senate committee, its House companion has not yet had a hearing.
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