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Christian pregnancy centers to offer women contraceptives

CLARICE SILBER
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Christian Pregnancy Centers-Texas

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 5, 2017 file photo, demonstrators participate in a rally for Planned Parenthood at the Capitol in Austin, Texas. A network of eight Christian pregnancy centers in Texas will provide contraceptive options next year as it vies for federal funding Planned Parenthood relinquished earlier this summer. The Source will take the unprecedented step of offering women pills, injections, and intrauterine devices while the organization looks to build an additional 20 clinics across Texas. The Source Chief Executive Andy Schoonover says the organization is focused on being proactive in reducing unplanned pregnancies. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Planned Parenthood gave up roughly $60 million when it left a federal family planning program this year in opposition to a new Trump administration rule prohibiting clinics from referring women for abortions.

In Texas, a network of eight Christian pregnancy centers is jockeying for that Title X funding as it makes plans to take the unprecedented step of offering unmarried women contraceptives next year.

The move by The Source marks a turning point for faith-based pregnancy centers that are opposed to abortions and typically do not provide birth control, while they instead preach abstinence outside of marriage.

Andy Schoonover, chief executive for The Source, said the nonprofit organization currently provides sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, first-trimester prenatal care, ultrasounds, pregnancy tests and so-called well-women checkups.

In 2020, it will add contraception options including pills, injections and intrauterine devices to its services while the organization looks to build an additional 20 clinics across Texas. The chain of clinics will not provide the morning-after pill or copper-based IUDs.

Schoonover said the organization’s plan to offer birth control is grounded in its focus on being proactive in reducing unplanned pregnancies.

“I looked at it and I said, ‘Hey what if we be proactive about this so that we can actually engage these women prior to becoming pregnant so we don’t have to see them for an unplanned pregnancy?’” Schoonover said. “And I think that’s something that the political left and the political right can all get behind.”

Unlike Planned Parenthood, The Source does not provide abortions or refer patients to other clinics for them. Schoonover said the organization makes that clear to patients when they are booking an appointment and on intake forms so as not to mislead them.

Professor Kimberly Kelly, who researches faith-based pregnancy centers and serves as director of Gender Studies at Mississippi State University, said she has never heard of a crisis pregnancy center offering contraceptives and called The Source’s action an anomaly.

“So, this seems to be a very pragmatic compromise on the part of The Source centers where they’ve recognized that the anti-contraception position is simply out of sync with where American women are,” Kelly said. “This center is like, ‘If they say they want it, we’re going to give it to them.’”

Evelyn Delgado, the chair of the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition, said if The Source’s action proves successful, it could prompt other faith-based pregnancy centers to offer contraceptives.

“I’m waiting to see what the reaction is, like how are women feeling supported at the sites, since they have traditionally not been contraceptive providers,” Delgado said. “But it’s good to know that there will be more contraceptive providers for women so that they can have access.”

Texas, which has passed some of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion laws, stumbled in trying to bolster women’s health services in the past after Republican lawmakers cut off Planned Parenthood.

In 2016, the state hired an evangelical anti-abortion organization called the Heidi Group to help strengthen small clinics that specialize in women’s health like Planned Parenthood but don’t offer abortions. An Associated Press investigation found that the group came nowhere close to meeting its promise to serve 50,000 women. Last year, the state canceled $6 million in troubled contracts with the organization.

Schoonover said The Source has no affiliation with the Heidi Group.

State investigators announced last week that the Heidi Group owes the state more than $1.5 million for reimbursement payments that were either inflated or that the state shouldn’t have paid at all.

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