*Correction: an earlier version of this article linked to the Georgia NAACP’s opposition to Amendment 2, the Safe Harbor Amendment. The Georgia NAACP has since reversed their position, and now supports the amendment. The article has been updated to reflect this.
In this state, it’s easier to find work-arounds to fund an anti-abortion agenda than to fund programs supporting survivors of child sex trafficking (or to fully fund education, for that matter). What legislators have already done is just as important as what will be on the November 8 ballot.
Wonk out with me for just a moment, if you will.
Amendment 4, funding trauma care and firefighters: requires a constitutional amendment.
Amendment 2, funding support services for survivors of child sex trafficking: requires a constitutional amendment.
SB 308, funding anti-abortion centers: requires a simple majority of legislators.
Amending the Constitution of the State of Georgia is no easy feat. Two-thirds of each house must approve the bill, then the governor must approve the bill and then a majority of voters must approve the measure. This is usually required *anytime* funds are dedicated to a specific purpose, particularly if a new, dedicated funding stream is being created (like a new tax or fee, or a new trust fund).
However, work-arounds can and have been found.
SB 308, for instance, reallocates money from the Indigent Care Trust Fund (ICTF) to crisis pregnancy centers. The state’s ICTF is a constitutionally mandated fund that helps compensate hospitals and other types of medical care providers for the care they provide to low-income patients.
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are not medical clinics. They are usually anti-abortion, volunteer-run, non-profit centers that provide free pregnancy tests and “counsel” pregnant folks not to get abortions. They may also provide baby clothes or parenting classes. They may or may not have medical personnel on staff, but, because they are unregulated centers, they are not required to meet any staffing or safety laws.
There are absolutely no laws or regulations crisis pregnancy centers are required to meet, except to encourage pregnant folks not to get abortions, if they want to get money from the special grant that SB 308 creates from the ICTF funds.
And this measure never had to go before voters because it carves out money intended to support hospitals providing medical care to low-income patients. You know, it seems just a little ethically dubious to prioritize funding these centers in a state that hasn’t expanded Medicaid, and faces some pretty atrociously bad health outcomes because of the lack of access to care (particularly in rural areas).
Survivors of child sex trafficking, on the other hand, currently have to duke it out with every other government program and department to get funds every year. If the Safe Harbor amendment passes, support services for survivors will get a couple million in dedicated funds, which is likely not even enough to fully fund the need for these services.
Heck, even (or especially) schools have to fight for adequate funding, since Gov. Sonny Perdue instituted austerity cuts back in 2003. Gov. Deal is making a big stink about his “pay raises” in this year’s budget not actually providing pay raises for some teachers in some districts…because so many districts are still recovering from years of furloughs, shortened school years and other cuts that have been necessary to keep schools scraping by in the face of significant underfunding.
Funding anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, however, is now going to get a dedicated $2 million every year. The Safe Harbor fund is hoping to get a similar amount every year, if voters approve the amendment (by the way, there are good reasons to support the Safe Harbor measure, as I wrote about here; there’s also valid opposition, which you can read from Athens for Everyone; the Georgia NAACP originally came out against the measure, but has since reversed their recommendation*).
Taking money from important safety net programs is actually a quite familiar pattern when it comes to dedicating funding to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).
Currently, seven states direct funds to CPCs from their TANF program. TANF, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, provides much needed stability to very low-income families. In four years, these states have diverted $30 million from TANF recipients to fund anti-abortion centers. Now, Georgia will be joining them in diverting funds from much needed programs — that aid low-income folks in meeting their most basic needs — to boost ideologically driven centers that provide zero real medical services to folks dealing with unplanned, and possibly high risk, pregnancies.
Georgia’s high maternal and infant mortality rate? This is partially driven by the fact that pregnancy is actually quite risky. In fact, carrying a pregnancy to term comes with a much higher risk of complications leading to death than getting an abortion does (getting an abortion is actually as safe or safer than other common outpatient procedures, like plastic surgery and dental procedures).
Pregnancy and childbirth are no easy feats for a person’s body to go through, particularly for people trying to manage certain kinds of addiction, chronic illness or high risk pregnancies. Folks wishing to carrying a pregnancy to term deserve access to quality, trained medical personnel (or other appropriate pregnancy support — like doulas and midwives — of their choosing). Low-income pregnant women deserve better than these ideologically driven, unregulated crisis pregnancy centers.
But now, without requiring any voter support for this dedicated funding stream, thanks to a handy (and questionable) work around, unregulated crisis pregnancy centers around the state are eligible to receive up to $2 million in public money to support their ideological, anti-abortion agenda.
Yes, this state absolutely needs to back policies that support folks who wish to carry a pregnancy to term. But it’s scary that Georgia tried to do this by putting pregnant women at risk. Supporting unregulated and ideologically driven centers means that pregnant folks — in a state with unacceptably high maternal and infant mortality rates — are not getting access to trained medical personnel that can evaluate their pregnancy and provide medically accurate information about terminating a pregnancy *or* having a healthy pregnancy.
What’s on the ballot November 8 (and don’t forget early voting is an option, too) matters. But the issues that elected officials have already pushed also matter. If you are interested in finding out if your state legislators voted for this bill, check the House of Representatives vote here and the Senate vote here. You can also see which candidates have been endorsed by anti-abortion groups like Georgia Right to Life.