RALEIGH — An abortion advocacy group wants the state to begin regulating pro-life pregnancy centers because it says that proceeds from a new specialty license tag are tantamount to government funding.
Pro-life organizations say that’s not the case. In contrast to tax revenue taken by force, motorists voluntarily purchase the “Choose Life” plates and understand that extra funds will go to centers that offer abortion alternatives, they say.
“This is not state budget money,” said Bobbie Meyer, executive director of the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, an umbrella organization for pro-life pregnancy centers in North Carolina. “These are people like you and me saying, ‘This is something I believe in, and I fully know that some of that money is going to the state to manufacture the plate, and the rest is going to a cause I believe in.’”
The Republican-controlled state legislature authorized the “Choose Life” plate — plus dozens of other specialty tags — earlier this year. Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, signed the bill into law June 30.
Motorists play an extra $25 for the tag. Proceeds go to Meyer’s group, the CPCF.
In a report released Monday, the NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation recommended that state government begin regulating the pro-life centers because of revenue from the plates.
“When any group, community organization, museum, or economic development enterprise receives state money or referrals there is typically an assumption that they must meet certain state standards,” the report says. “Now that nearly half the [pregnancy centers] in North Carolina receive funds and referrals as a result of state government they should not be treated any differently.”
Contacted by phone, NARAL Pro-Choice N.C. executive director Carey Pope defended the portrayal of the tag revenue as government funds.
“They are still writing the check to the state of North Carolina, so it is putting the state in the position of creating this funding stream, and essentially being the conduit for that funding stream,” Pope said.
Meyer said that pregnancy centers do not receive state funds, and that they rely on private donations from individuals and support from churches.
The abortion-provider Planned Parenthood was in line to receive over $200,000 in government funds this fiscal year, earmarked for STD testing and teen pregnancy prevention programs, but the legislature blocked the funds.
The report also accused pro-life pregnancy centers of targeting college students and minority populations. Centers are located within 25 miles of every public university campus in North Carolina, the report found, and 75 percent of centers are located in regions that have higher-than-average minority populations.
Similar to pro-life centers, abortion providers in North Carolina have located in urban centers close to universities and minorities. In 2008, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, formerly associated with Planned Parenthood, reported that 31 abortion providers were in the state. All are in populous regions such as the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metro.
“In many cases, women have to drive two or three hours to get to an abortion clinic,” Pope said.
Meyer said that pro-life centers don’t intentionally target certain populations. “We serve whoever comes for help,” she said. “Sometimes, that means a high minority population … but there is no targeting. The doors are open.”
The number of pro-life pregnancy centers in the Tar Heel State has doubled since 2006, Pope said. That, mixed with passage of the “Choose Life” tags and the Woman’s Right to Know bill this summer, motivated the report.
“Those were the two main things that lit a fire under us,” she said.
Meyer thinks the report was prompted by the inroads that pro-life pregnancy centers make into abortion providers’ bottom line.
“All the services in pregnancy centers are free, and [abortion providers] stand to lose a lot of money if women choose to not have an abortion by viewing an ultrasound at a center,” she said.
Pro-choice groups also have filed suit in court challenging the WRTK bill and the budgetary provision that ended funds to Planned Parenthood. In August, a federal district court judge temporarily halted the funding ban while the case proceeds.
The informed-consent law took effect this week, but a federal judge Tuesday blocked a key provision that requires physicians to offer an ultrasound image of the unborn to the woman prior to the abortion. The judge upheld the remainder of the law, part of which requires a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.