COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Available funding for Ohio’s crisis pregnancy centers more than doubled in the state’s recently adopted budget.

Signed by Gov. Mike DeWine in late June, the two-year budget directs $14 million – up from $6 million in the last fiscal year’s budget – to a state program that awards some of its grant dollars to crisis pregnancy centers, nonprofits typically operated by faith-based groups with an anti-abortion lens. But abortion-rights activists, who often describe the centers as “fake health clinics” designed to dissuade people from abortion, called the 133% boost to the program’s budget a misuse of public funds.

“It’s unfortunate that we are spending quite significantly – any public money – towards health care that is not trusting women to make their own decisions and get all of the information that they need,” said Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Westlake), a member of the House Finance Committee.

Lawmakers allocated the $14 million line item to the Parenting and Pregnancy Program within the Department of Job and Family Services to strengthen the state’s infrastructure for families, moms and babies, Ohio Senate Majority Caucus spokesperson John Fortney said.

Established in 2013, the program allows the department to award taxpayer dollars – issued in grants – to select nonprofit organizations that promote childbirth, parenting and alternatives to abortion and qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding, according to the Ohio Revised Code.

Crisis pregnancy centers fall under that list, according to Beth Vanderkooi, executive director of the Greater Columbus Right to Life. More than 200 centers exist across Ohio to provide free resources to pregnant people and families, from diapers and baby bottles to ultrasounds and counseling.

“The majority of women who have abortions report that they did it because they lacked resources and they lacked community,” Vanderkooi said. “They’re alone – they don’t have a partner; they don’t have a family; they don’t have that support. Pregnancy centers are there to walk with women.”

About 1 in 7 Ohio women of adult, reproductive age have visited a crisis pregnancy center, according to a study conducted by the Ohio State University in 2021. Black and low-income women were about two times more likely to rely on a center’s services.

Vanderkooi said the $14 million allocation – though relatively small compared with the millions of dollars in free services provided by pregnancy centers each year – will exponentially increase the number of parents and children centers can serve.

But Jamie Miracle, deputy director of Pro-Choice Ohio, said crisis centers routinely provide those who walk through their doors with false or misleading information about their pregnancy and reproductive health options, all in the name of steering them from abortion.

Some women mistakenly think they’re visiting a health care provider when arriving at a crisis pregnancy center, which often resembles medical facilities, the Ohio State study found. But because the centers aren’t licensed medical providers nor licensed through the state medical board, there’s a potential for misinformation and delay in patients receiving necessary health care.

“When we start talking about state funding for these centers, the state is prioritizing funding coercion and lies in communities rather than real health care centers and real programs,” Miracle said.

Vanderkooi said abortion-rights organizations’ critique of crisis pregnancy centers “highlights the hypocrisy of the pro-choice movement.” 

While groups like the ACLU of Ohio and Planned Parenthood spend millions of dollars to place an abortion-rights amendment on the November ballot, she said they’re simultaneously working to “defund and defame” the centers that provide women alternatives to the procedure.

“The real beauty of the work being done by pregnancy help centers is that they offer women another choice,” Vanderkooi said. “They offer women who think they have no support and they have no other options – they give them another option.”

Regardless of crisis pregnancy centers’ efforts across the state, Miracle said they cannot and will not serve as a solution to eradicating abortion. When Ohio’s six-week abortion ban briefly took effect last year, an estimated 400 residents fled the state for the procedure, according to an April Society of Family Planning report.

“The centers – in no way, shape or form – can reduce the harm that abortion bans put on the people of our state and the people across the country,” Miracle said. “This is all about politics; this is about them (lawmakers) feeling better and trying to do something to make them feel better about the harm they have caused by pushing all these abortion bans.”

In addition to the program-issued grants, crisis pregnancy centers receive dollars from the state’s “Choose Life” license plate fund, which collects a fee from Ohioans who opt to pay extra for the custom plates.

The Ohio Department of Health, responsible for distributing the “Choose Life” license plate funds to qualifying organizations, has issued more than $290,000 to 23 pregnancy centers across the state since the license plate fund was formed in 2018, according to data from the department.