Funding for pregnancy care

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A bill to use state funding for pregnancy care created a stir in a Florida House committee Tuesday morning.

Religion and a woman's right to choose took center stage in the debate.

More than 45,000 Floridians were served by 105 pregnancy centers around the state in 2016.

The state's been giving out about $4 million each year to the program, and lawmakers are looking to make the funding permanent.

Part of their contract with the state forbids providers from pressuring patients with religion. Testimony before a House committee Tuesday morning suggested some clinics may not be following the rules.

Since the state started funding the Florida Pregnancy Care Network, no formal complaints have been received.

In the meeting, a care provider admitted to offering religious materials and guidance to those who requested them.

"We're going to try and encourage them to make life-affirming choices, but again anybody can walk out of our office anytime they want to and no one has to come back," said Ryan Sprague, the CEO of Pregnancy Help and Information Center.

But he added the clinic doesn't bill the state for those visits, which are technically allowed.

Democratic representatives say in addition to religious concerns, the centers limit the choices of women.

"We heard from a clinic provider that he doesn't even provide contraceptive alternatives," said Representative Lori Bernman.

Bill Sponsor Jackie Toledo says women looking for those options can go somewhere else.

"These centers are to promote child birth," said Toledo.

The Florida Pregnancy Support Services program never had to bid for state contract. If the bill becomes law, they would keep it indefinitely.

The bill heads straight for the House floor after being approved by its only committee meeting Tuesday morning.