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Louisiana Illuminator

Abortion-ban states pour millions into pregnancy centers with little medical care

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Abortion-ban states pour millions into pregnancy centers with little medical care

by Anna Claire Vollers, Louisiana Illuminator
August 24, 2023

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Louisiana Republican state Sen. Beth Mizell looked for a way to address her state's abysmal record on infant and maternal mortality, preterm births and low birth weight. Louisiana has one of the nation's strictest abortion bans, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Mizell and her colleagues borrowed an idea from neighboring Mississippi: a state tax credit program that sends millions each year to nonprofit pregnancy resource centers, also called crisis pregnancy centers. They're private anti-abortion organizations, often religiously affiliated, that typically offer free pregnancy tests, parenting classes and baby supplies. They are not usually staffed by doctors or nurses, though some offer limited ultrasounds or testing for sexually transmitted infections.

“I see [pregnancy resource centers] as a touchpoint for pregnant women who may not know where to go for services or where to begin,” Mizell said. Louisiana has roughly 30-40 pregnancy resource centers scattered across the state. “If we don't use everything with an open mind to give women the services they need, we're only hurting women in our state.”

Legislators in states with some of the strictest abortion bans are pouring millions into pregnancy resource centers, painting them as solutions to poor birth outcomes and the lack of access to adequate prenatal and postpartum care. But while Republican lawmakers have increasingly positioned pregnancy resource centers as a backstop for maternal health care, critics say those taxpayer dollars should be used to shore up more comprehensive medical and social services.

Mizell's bill, which was signed into law in June and went into effect Aug. 1, allows both individuals and corporations to claim an income tax break for donations made to pregnancy resource centers, which the law calls “maternal wellness centers.” The tax credits are capped at $5 million per year. Mississippi passed a similar tax credit law last year and expanded its cap this year to $10 million annually.

In 2017, Missouri became the first state to issue tax credits for donations to pregnancy resource centers and it recently removed its limit on how many tax credits the state can issue. Alabama, Kansas and Nebraska considered their own tax credits in this year's legislative sessions.

The tax breaks are much larger than those awarded for donations to most other types of charities.

Some critics of Louisiana's new law question its cost, when so many residents struggle to get prenatal care.

“We have many areas around the state where there are no obstetricians, no birthing centers and it's very difficult for people to get access to prenatal care,” said Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, a reproductive rights advocacy organization.

“I think these centers are trying to rebrand as being maternal care centers. But they're not providing any actual medical services. They're not licensed. They're not regulated. Is that a good value for $5 million a year of Louisiana's tax dollars?”

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‘What could be bad?'

Matt Mitchell, the CEO of Oasis Medical Center in Corinth, Mississippi, calls his center “the best first stop for pregnancy concerns.”

Located in the rural northeast corner of the state, Oasis is a pregnancy resource center that does not offer comprehensive medical care, but does provide pregnancy tests, non-diagnostic ultrasounds, testing for sexually transmitted infections, adoption referrals, parenting classes and community resource referrals, all for free.

Mitchell doesn't think his center's role has changed since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, he told Stateline in a written statement, “but I think more people are aware of the important role we play.”

The Southeast is home to about 900 pregnancy resource centers, more than a third of the national total, according to the Crisis Pregnancy Center Map created by University of Georgia researchers Andrea Swartzendruber and Danielle Lambert.

“From a public health perspective, I think awareness about what crisis pregnancy centers are, their mission and goals, is really low,” said Lambert. Her work with Swartzendruber has focused on the public health impact of pregnancy resource centers, which they found tend to be more common in states with abortion bans.

“When we talk to policymakers and advocacy groups,” Lambert said, “the narrative is, ‘What could be bad about helping women who are in need and pregnant?' They have images on their websites of people in white coats.”

Swartzendruber has noticed a “significant increase” recently in the number of pregnancy resource centers that offer limited, non-diagnostic ultrasounds or have changed their names in ways that suggest they provide health care. “But we've found on the whole, the services they're offering aren't in line with national medical standards,” she said.

Louisiana's new tax credit law requires “maternal wellness centers” to provide certain resources to their clients, including a list of the closest OB-GYNs, as well as information on applying for Medicaid and federal food assistance programs. And, as with the Mississippi and Missouri laws, the centers can't be associated with abortion providers or refer clients for abortions.

“If I had put a requirement on the bill that they had to have a licensed medical provider there, I wouldn't have had buy-in from the pregnancy resource centers because that's too much of a financial burden on them and that's not the role of the center,” Mizell said.

Critics of pregnancy resource centers say they often use a bait-and-switch approach, targeting vulnerable women by offering “abortion consultations” or “pre-abortion screenings” that spread false claims about the dangers of abortion. Swartzendruber and Lambert said they've documented instances of centers providing misinformation about reproductive health, including about contraceptives.

From a public health perspective, I think awareness about what crisis pregnancy centers are, their mission and goals, is really low.

– Danielle Lambert, University of Georgia researcher

Some centers, such as Oasis in Mississippi, offer “abortion reversal” treatment. It's a controversial practice that uses doses of the hormone progesterone to stop a medication abortion after a patient has completed the first part of the two-step abortion process. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the treatment is not supported by science and does not meet clinical standards.

A small 2019 study designed to test the effectiveness of abortion reversal was halted after three of the 12 participants required a trip via ambulance to the hospital to be treated for severe bleeding.

But Mizell said she hasn't seen evidence of danger or misinformation from the centers.

“I just think it's a paper tiger of an argument,” she said. “We have 40-something of these centers all over the state, including in the rural areas. They're not intimidating, and they have all of these buckets of information available and can point the pregnant person in the right direction.”

More bang for your buck

The tax credit programs are structured to make donations to pregnancy resource centers far more lucrative for donors than contributions to other types of charities, said Lillian Hunter, a research assistant at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center who has studied how states have amended their tax policies in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling that struck down constitutional protections for abortion.

This is because a tax credit allows filers to reduce their taxes owed, as opposed to reducing their taxable income.

If you're a Louisiana resident and you donate $500 to a pregnancy resource center and apply for a state tax credit, you'll reduce the total amount of state taxes you owe by $250, because the tax credit for that donation is 50% of the donated amount. If you donated that same $500 to any other charitable organization, you'd save yourself just $21.25. This is because your donation would reduce your taxable income by $500, and Louisiana's top state tax rate is 4.25%.

“It really privileges this type of donation over donations to every other charity,” Hunter said. And while a handful of states have tax credits for other types of charitable donations, “they're not typical.”

 

For example, Missouri offers a 50% tax credit for donations of $100 or more to diaper banks. Its tax credit for donations to pregnancy resource centers is 70%, which means a donation of $100 to a diaper bank would result in a $50 reduction in state taxes, but the same donation to a pregnancy resource center means a $70 reduction.

After Missouri lawmakers removed the limit on how many tax credits the state could issue for donations to pregnancy resource centers, Missouri authorized more than $7 million in tax credits for the centers in the first quarter of 2022, according to an analysis by ProPublica. That jump was more than three times higher than in any other quarter.

In Mississippi, Mitchell said donations to his center increased after the state passed its tax credit law last year, and he hopes more businesses and individual taxpayers will take advantage of the expanded tax credit this year.

Transparency and oversight

It's hard to say what the impact of the tax credits will be on birth outcomes. States with strict abortion bans and high numbers of pregnancy resource centers, mostly in the Southeast and Midwest, already tend to be states with some of the worst birth outcomes.

“My biggest concern is that states enact these tax credits and don't invest in programs that we know work, like expanding earned income or child tax credits,” said Hunter, the research assistant at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. They might spend less on maternal health or food assistance programs, she said, “because they already have something they can point to that they're doing to help families.”

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The principal author of Mississippi's tax credit expansion this year was Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, a vocal opponent of abortion rights. Last year, he twice blocked bipartisan efforts to expand Medicaid coverage in Mississippi for mothers up to 12 months postpartum.

Aside from the new tax credit programs, at least 18 states directly fund pregnancy resource centers through state grants and by funneling federal welfare dollars to them — and many have bumped up their funding, according to Equity Forward, a research and watchdog group focused on reproductive rights.

Some notable increases in state spending on pregnancy resource centers from 2022 to 2023 include Florida's increase from $4.5 million to $25 million and Tennessee's from $3 million to $20 million, according to Ashley Underwood, director of Equity Forward.

The cascade of funding is thanks, in part, to organized national pregnancy center groups that “shop tactics across state lines,” she said. She pointed out that Louisiana's law even requires pregnancy resource centers to be affiliated with a national pregnancy center organization before they can go on the state-approved donation list.

The Louisiana law also requires pregnancy resource centers to self-report that they meet the criteria to be eligible for tax-credit donations, including that they offer information about local obstetricians and how to apply for government assistance programs. But the law does not give the state department of health regulatory authority over the centers.

“I just think that if our tax dollars are being put towards this, whether it's a direct program or a tax credit program, there needs to be more requirements that they show they're actually doing something to improve maternal health outcomes,” Lift Louisiana's Erenberg said.

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This article was first published by Stateline, part of the States Newsroom nonprofit news network with the . It's supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Stateline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Scott S. Greenberger for questions: info@stateline.org. Follow Stateline on Facebook and X.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Louisiana Illuminator

Biden touts gun safety record to advocates, as son found guilty on felony charges • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Ariana Figueroa – 2024-06-12 05:00:32

by Ariana Figueroa, Louisiana Illuminator
June 12, 2024

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday touted his administration's efforts to reduce gun violence as the second anniversary of bipartisan gun safety legislation he signed into law approaches.

“Never give up on hope,” Biden said during an annual conference hosted by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

The speech came hours after the president's son Hunter Biden was found guilty in a federal court in Delaware of lying on paperwork related to purchasing a gun and unlawfully possessing that gun, according to media reports.

The federal jury found Hunter Biden, who has struggled with drug addiction, guilty on three related felony charges: lying to a licensed gun dealer, falsely stating on an application for a gun that he was not using drugs and for unlawfully having the gun for 11 days.

He could face up to 25 years in prison, though as a first-time offender his sentence is expected to be much less severe.

The president has avoided publicly commenting on his son's case and he did not mention the verdict in his speech.

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Gaza protest

Shortly after Biden began his speech, he was interrupted by a protester who accused the president of being “complicit” in the high death toll of the Israel-Hamas war. The conflict has killed 35,000 Palestinians since Oct. 7, according to the Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip run by the Hamas-controlled government. An agreement over a U.S. backed cease-fire deal remains elusive.

The crowd immediately drowned out the protester. A group of protesters was removed, according to a White House pool report.

Biden tried to calm the crowd.

“That's alright,” he said. “Folks, it's OK, look they care, innocent children have been lost, they make a point.”

Law nears second anniversary

Biden went back to his speech, and thanked the gun safety advocates and survivors “who have turned their pain” into advocacy.

“You've helped power a movement,” Biden said.

The gun safety law Biden signed in 2022 was the most comprehensive federal gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years. It stemmed from two deadly mass shootings less than two weeks apart in 2022.

One was at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were murdered, making it the second-deadliest mass shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.

The other was in Buffalo, New York, where a white supremacist targeted a Black neighborhood and killed 10 Black people in a grocery store.

Worries about guns in school mount as permitless concealed carry law looms

The 2022 law provided $750 million for states to enact “red flag laws,” which allow the courts to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual who is a threat to themselves or others as well as $11 billion in mental health services for schools and families. The law cracked down on straw purchases, illegal transactions in which a buyer acquires a gun for someone else.

The bill also requires those who are under 21 and want to purchase a firearm to undergo a background check that takes into account a review of juvenile and mental health records. It also led to the creation of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

The Justice Department also announced Tuesday it has charged more than 500 people under provisions of the gun safety law to “target the unlawful trafficking and straw-purchasing of firearms.”

The statutes “directly prohibit straw purchasing and firearms trafficking and significantly enhance the penalties for those crimes, providing for up to 15 years in prison,” according to the Justice Department.

“Criminals rely on illegal gun traffickers and straw purchasers to obtain the weapons they use to harm our communities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

More work to do

Biden acknowledged that more needs to be done on gun safety legislation and he called on Congress to ban assault weapons and require universal background checks and safe storage of firearms. In a divided Congress, any gun-related legislation is unlikely to pass.

The last time Congress passed major gun legislation was 1994, when then-President Bill Clinton signed a ban on assault weapons that spanned 10 years. When it expired, Congress did not renew the ban.

Biden also took a jab at his rival, former President Donald J. Trump, and said that he won't tell people to “get over” a mass shooting.

After a school shooting in Perry, Iowa, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee said during a campaign speech in Sioux City, Iowa, that while the school shooting that left two dead – an 11-year-old student and the principal – was a “terrible thing that happened,” his advice was to “get over it. We have to move forward.”

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Pair of U.S. House Dems add to chorus calling for Alito, Thomas recusals • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Ariana Figueroa – 2024-06-12 05:00:51

Pair of U.S. House Dems add to chorus calling for Alito, Thomas recusals

by Ariana Figueroa, Louisiana Illuminator
June 12, 2024

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats echoed Senate colleagues Tuesday in calling for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito to recuse themselves from Jan. 6 cases, and for congressional Republicans to support passing an enforceable ethics code for the entire bench.

Reps. Jamie Raskin, ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, and vice ranking member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought together fellow progressive Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse with experts and advocates for a roundtable discussion on the “ethics crisis” facing the nation's highest court.

Recent revelations of flags sympathetic to the “Stop the Steal” movement flown outside Alito's home have reignited simmering concerns over justices' conflicts of interest as they decide politically divisive issues. This year, justices are set to rule on access to the abortion pill and whether former President Donald Trump enjoys immunity from criminal charges alleging 2020 election interference, among other cases.

Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez delivered searing remarks, admonishing decades of court actions beginning with the 5-4 decision in 2000's Bush v. Gore that ultimately decided the presidential victory for George W. Bush. The lawmakers continued on to recent events that Ocasio-Cortez characterized as “corruption that is almost comical.”

“The Supreme Court as it stands today is delegitimizing itself through his conduct,” the New York Democrat continued in her opening statement. “Americans are losing fundamental rights in the process — reproductive health care, civil liberties, voting rights, the right to organize clean air and water because the court has been captured and corrupted by money and extremism.”

Raskin, of Maryland, said the “highest court in the land today has the lowest ethical standards.”

In his opening statement, Raskin characterized the court as “the judicial arm of the Republican Party,” drawing a throughline from Bush's appointments to the bench of Chief Justice John Roberts and Alito to Trump's appointments of conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

“Now this right-wing corporate court, carefully designed to destroy Roe v. Wade and marry right-wing religion to untrammeled corporate power, has been demolishing women's abortion rights and contraceptive rights, civil rights law, voting rights law, civil liberties, environmental law, workers' rights and consumer rights, enshrining government power over people and corporate power over government,” Raskin said.

Raskin and Ocasio-Cortez's roundtable came less than a week after progressive House Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Hank Johnson of Georgia rallied with activists outside the Supreme Court urging an ethics overhaul.

That same day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky posted to X: “As the Supreme Court term ends, the Left is once again bullying Justices who refuse to take orders from liberal Senators. The Court should take any action it deems appropriate to reprimand unethical conduct by members of its Bar. And Justices should continue to pay this harassment no mind.”

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‘Keep the pressure on'

Whitehouse told Democratic members of the Oversight and Accountability Committee that Senate Democrats are shining a “heavy spotlight on the mischief.”

The Rhode Island Democrat has championed an ethics bill titled the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act, which advanced out of committee along party lines in July 2023 but has not received a floor vote.

“We need to keep the pressure on until they join the rest of the government in having a real ethics code with real fact finding and some prospects for comparing the facts that are found to the rules,” Whitehouse said.

The bill was introduced during the fallout from a 2023 ProPublica investigation revealing that Justice Clarence Thomas received gifts from and traveled with a major Republican donor.

A recent analysis by watchdog group Fix The Court illustrated that over the past 20 years the value of gifts received and likely received by Thomas dwarfs that of his colleagues.

Supreme Court orders Louisiana to use congressional map with two majority-Black districts 

Whitehouse again pressed the court in May after the New York Times published that an upside-down U.S. flag hung outside Alito's Alexandria, Virginia, home just days after former Trump's supporters breached the Capitol. The Times later revealed another flag carried by Jan. 6 insurrectionists flew outside the justice's New Jersey beach house.

Along with Sen. Dick Durbin, who chairs the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Whitehouse requested a meeting with Roberts to urge Alito to recuse himself from cases related to the Jan. 6 attack. Roberts declined, and Alito responded to the senators, declaring he would not recuse himself.

“Thank you Sen. Whitehouse for always flying the flag right side up,” Raskin said.

The court ‘will decide all of this for all of us'

Kate Shaw, University of Pennsylvania law professor, told the lawmakers that the court is “conducting itself in ways that are fundamentally inconsistent with basic separation-of-powers principles that are a core feature of our democracy.”

“This is crystal clear right now, as it is every June, as the country waits with bated breath to learn whether and how the court will upend huge swaths of American law,” she continued.

“This year questions include whether and how the court could further erode the capacity of agencies to regulate in ways that protect our health and safety and well being,” and major firearms decisions, Shaw said.

The court will also decide whether laws on the books will “be used to hold accountable individuals charged with the attack on the Capitol, including the former president,” Shaw said. “And the court is asserting that it and essentially it alone will decide all of this for all of us.”

Over two dozen opinions are expected from the Supreme Court by the end of June.

Two decisions related to two Jan. 6 cases remain pending — one involving a former police officer who breached the Capitol and is seeking to have an obstruction charge dropped. The decision could affect hundreds of Jan. 6 defendant cases, and the 2020 election interference case against Trump, who faces the same obstruction charge.

The court is also set to decide whether Trump is immune from four federal criminal counts alleging he schemed to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and knowingly spread false information that whipped his supporters into rioting on Jan. 6.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Campaign cash for child care? Louisiana lawmakers decline to endorse it. • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Julie O'Donoghue – 2024-06-12 05:00:35

by Julie O'Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator
June 12, 2024

Five years ago, the Louisiana Board of Ethics told a political candidate she could use her campaign money to cover child care costs as long as the expense was related to her efforts to get elected. But state legislators declined to insert that policy into law this year.

They scuttled Senate Bill 153 to ensure candidates could use campaign dollars for election-related child care. 

The proposal passed the Louisiana Senate 31-3 but died in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Committee members said too many questions about the bill remained. 

The legislation's failure doesn't necessarily mean candidates can't use money raised for their campaigns to pay child care expenses. It just means the issue will be left up to the ethics board, which could reverse its 2018 decision at any time. 

“In some cases, it's better to have these individual decisions made, as they are, through [the ethics board],” House Republican Caucus Chairman Mark Wright of Covington said.

Former Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, wishes the Louisiana Legislature had made a definitive statement on the issue. As a candidate for Baton Rouge mayor and single father, James has sometimes wished he had child care for his 6 year-old daughter while campaigning. He has not used any election money for child care yet, but juggling his daughter during nighttime and weekend events can be difficult, he said.

“I think that the Legislature could have and should have put some clarity to it,” James said. 

What's a legitimate campaign expense in Louisiana has been interpreted liberally over the years. Candidates are allowed to use their funds for Mardi Gras parades, restaurant dining, flowers for constituents, charity golf tournaments, fuel and vehicle maintenance.

Several elected officials buy Saints and LSU football tickets with campaign money every year. They also collectively spent over half a million dollars in campaign funds to attend D.C. Mardi Gras, a four-day event that includes dozens of parties, in 2022. 

“If folks can use campaign money to buy Saints, Southern and LSU tickets, I certainly think [child care] should be permissible,” James said.

In the past, the ethics board has also waffled over whether campaign money can be used to cover child care costs.

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The board issued two opinions to male candidates in 2000 indicating they could use campaign funds to cover child care to attend fundraisers. Based on that decision, a group of men who ran for office, including U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, tapped their campaign accounts to cover child care for years. 

Then, in 2018, the board, with a different lineup of members, told legislative candidate Morgan Lamandre she could not use campaign money for child care. One member, former House Rep. Charles Emile “Peppi” Bruneau, told Lamandre her primary responsibility was to provide for her children, not to be a political candidate. 

After widespread criticism of the decision and Bruneau's remarks, the board backtracked a few months later in 2019 and voted 6-4 to allow Lamandre the child care expense. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, sponsored the Senate bill this year to clear up any confusion that might remain. She said 31 other states already have a law on the books that allows campaign cash to be used for child care.

“I'm trying to codify what the [ethics board] ruling says,” Barrow said.

During debate on the bill, a handful of legislators implied child care should not be an allowable campaign fund use. 

“Are you aware we have a general prohibition against using campaign funds for personal expenses?” Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, asked Barrow during debate on the Senate floor.

“Yes,” Barrow said. 

“So why are you bringing the bill?” Miguez replied. 

Miguez, who voted against Barrow's legislation, said allowing campaign funds to be used for child care would open “Pandora's box.” During the Senate debate, he listed utility bills, lawn care, car leases and “car notes” as costs that candidates might try to cover with campaign funds if child care became an allowable expense.

Legislators already use campaign money to cover car leases. Gov. Jeff Landry also put his campaign money toward paying “a portion of a note on a motor vehicle” for years until the ethics board told him to stop in 2022. 

“Don't you think that's very important to have [a candidate's] animal taken care of while they're out there campaigning?” Miguez asked Barrow during debate on her child care bill. 

“I know that you're not equating pet animals to children,” Barrow replied. 

“I'm not. I'm just giving you some specific examples of where this could go,” Miguez said.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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