US states take control of abortion debate with funding focus
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Though the Insight Women’s Center sits at the epicenter of a reinvigorated battle in the nation’s culture wars, the only hint of its faith-based mission to dissuade people from getting abortions is the jazzy, piano rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” playing in a waiting room.
The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature is considering allocating millions of dollars in state funds to similar anti-abortion centers that persuade people to bring their pregnancies to term by offering free pregnancy tests and sonograms, as well as counseling and parenting classes taught by volunteers. They're also considering offering millions more in income tax credits for donors supporting what they call “crisis pregnancy centers."
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year and gave control of abortion policy to the states, it led to bans and restrictions in some states, and executive orders and laws protecting access in others. Those debates continue, but perhaps less noticed is how this change refueled the renewed battle over taxpayer money.
Supporters say the effort shows abortion opponents are addressing families' social and financial needs. But critics say the amount of new funding proposed for organizations like Insight — either in direct funding or tax credits for their donors — fall far short of what’s necessary to improve people’s access to health care and address ongoing poverty.
“You funnel money through a short-term solution that makes it appear as though you are doing something,” said Alesha Doan, a University of Kansas associate professor who has studied and written books about abortion politics.
Increasingly, liberal cities and states are funding access to abortion, including telemedicine, which has seen a notable rise with more than half of U.S. abortions now done with pills rather than surgery. Meanwhile, states with GOP legislatures and governors are looking to put more taxpayer money into organizations that talk people out of ending their pregnancies.
Legislative committees held hearings Thursday on proposals for a 70% income tax credit to donors who support anti-abortion centers, with a cap of $10 million in total credits. A Senate committee might vote this week.
It's similar to a longstanding Missouri law that provides income tax credits to donors supporting anti-abortion centers. Arizona has such a law, and Mississippi's Republican House speaker is trying to expand a cap on tax credits to $10 million from the $3.5 million authorized last year.
Arkansas and Oklahoma are considering adding similar tax credits, according to the National Right to Life Committee.
In Missouri, donors to anti-abortion centers have received $15 million in total state tax credits over the past five years, and one state analysis estimates the centers served about 43,000 people last year.
Abortion opponents have operated centers like Insight for decades, and the practice of conservative-led states offering financial aid to them predates Dobbs — the decision in June overturning Roe v. Wade.
On the abortion-rights side, Oregon lawmakers last year created a $15 million abortion-access fund, with the first $1 million going to a nonprofit that covers the costs of patients' travel and procedures. California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington have also allocated or are considering offering public funding for abortions or related services.
In New Mexico last year, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pledged $10 million in state funds to the construction of a new abortion clinic.
Morgan Hopkins, president of the abortion-rights advocacy group All(asterisk) Above All praised the funding. “Budgets are a reflection of our values," she said.
Kansas already provides grants to programs that provide prenatal care, and encourage people to carry their pregnancies to term. But it spends less than $339,000 in a state budget of $24 billion on the program — and made only two grants totaling less than $74,000 to anti-abortion centers.
Now, some abortion opponents talk about emulating Missouri's more than $8 million annual funding, plus the income tax credits.
Abortion rights supporters are frustrated that the push for such support is coming so soon after an Aug. 2 statewide vote that decisively rejected a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have allowed legislators to greatly restrict or ban abortion.
“I have general concerns that we’re not respecting what was the very clear will of voters,” said state Sen. Ethan Corson, a Kansas City-area Democrat who serves on the Senate tax committee.
Abortion rights advocates say the centers lure patients away from abortion clinics with free services, give them inaccurate medical information and counseling from people who are not trained therapists. Some see funding them as a political gesture designed to make abortion bans look less harsh.
Abortion opponents argue that centers like Insight offer patients a wide range of prenatal and post-birth classes, in addition to other help. They also argue that boosting funding for free services after the August vote is a promise not to abandon parents and families.
In Lawrence, where the nearest abortion clinic is a 40-minute drive away, 28-year-old Korbe Bohac is still visiting the Insight center nearly 8 months after her son Winston was born. She told legislators the classes and counseling make her a better, more confident parent — and helped preserve her mental health. She called it “a safety net.”
The Insight center, which is only a few miles from the University of Kansas, has two sonogram nurses, and a doctor and radiologist sometimes volunteer their time. But services depend mostly on about 50 volunteers. The $340,000 annual budget is mostly supplied by private donations, but the organization received a community development grant in 2014 to launch parent education programs.
Center staff said that although they do not refer clients to abortion providers, they discuss abortion as an option. They said some patients who met with them went on to have abortions, though this is not possible to verify given patients' privacy protocols.
Insight has two separate waiting rooms — one for its educational programs and one for medical services. Executive director Bridgit Smith said one reason is that it keeps pregnant patients from being influenced by seeing babies and toddlers.
Smith said she believes the proposed tax credit would increase donations, helping Insight start a maternity home for people without shelter.
“We’re trying to build strong individuals and strong families. And isn’t that what we all want?” Smith said. “Even for the woman that doesn’t choose to parent, we still want her to be strong and healthy after the decision.”
Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna.
John Hanna And Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press