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County Supervisor Vows to Cut Tax Funds for Santa Monica Clinic

By Cindy Frazier
Special Correspondent

February 2 -- An outcry by pro-choice activists after The Lookout revealed State taxes were being used to help fund a Santa Monica clinic that counsels against abortion has borne fruit.

Supervisor Gloria Molina, who is taking over the reins of First 5 LA -- the commission which disburses millions in tobacco taxes earmarked for children's services -- says she will take steps to ensure that no more funding is granted to groups providing pregnancy services unless "a full range of options" is offered, including abortion.

In doing so, Molina may be at odds with her own Democratic party, whose leaders recently indicated they may decide to step back from the party's traditional support of abortion rights, in the wake of the success of the pro-life Christian vote in the presidential election.

Supervisor Don Knabe -- a Republican who fought a losing battle last year against removal of a Christian cross from the county seal -- chaired the First 5 LA Commission in 2004, during which a $25,000 grant was approved for the Westside Pregnancy Resource Center, and another similar center in Compton.

The center, located at 828 Pico Boulevard, counsels women not to terminate their pregnancies, and its website carries warnings that abortions are linked to breast cancer, HIV-AIDS, and emotional problems, claims which have been refuted or are considered to be unproved by most health professionals.

"Unless groups provide a range of all legal options to pregnant women, including adoption, carrying to term, and abortion, they shouldn't be funded" by First 5 LA, said Roxane Marquez, Molina's press deputy.

"Ms. Molina is adamantly pro-choice," Marquez added.

The funds could be subject to legal challenge because state law prohibits public funding of agencies handling pregnancies unless all options are offered, according to Margaret Crosby of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Northern California.

“The state cannot pay for prenatal care and not for abortions," Crosby said. "It is extremely important that counseling be medically accurate and unbiased, and when I looked at their (WPRC's) website, they seem to be grossly exaggerating the complication rates from abortion."

Molina believes that the policy which led to the grants has been rectified and that the consulting group that handled those grants has been replaced, Marquez said.

“We are now comfortable that First 5 LA is enforcing the rules that are in place," Marquez said. "But it may be necessary to come up with a specific policy ensuring that this will happen."

Molina will chair her first commission meeting in early February.

Knabe's office did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

"I am thrilled with her (Molina's) leadership on this issue," said Amy Everitt, state director of National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice California.

"This should signal to other First 5 commissions to look at their policies and ensure their grants are protecting a full range of reproductive options," Everitt said.

Talitha Huff, executive director of the WPRC, said that her organization is in keeping with the "vision" of First 5 LA and that the agency offers all services, as sought by Molina.

"As excerpted from their website, it is our understanding that First 5 LA is committed to creating a future throughout Los Angeles' diverse communities where all young children are born healthy and raised in a loving and nurturing environment so that they grow up healthy, are eager to learn and reach their full potential.

"Our specialty is offering a full range of services to the Los Angeles community that allows these children to be born healthy and support their moms so that they benefit from a loving and nurturing environment," Huff said.

After surfsantamonica.com revealed the existence of the grant in early January, Everitt asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to rescind the funds. (Public Funding of Anti-Abortion Clinic Raises Questions,” January 6)

That was not possible, according to Marquez, because the funding period is well under way. The funding period ends in May.

Some 1,000 e-mails were sent to the five supervisors protesting the use of public funds for the center.

Molina’s office received 75 to 100 e-mails and letters on the topic, Marquez said. "More people had a problem with the funding than were supportive," she said.

The WPRC is one of dozens of Crisis Pregnancy Centers in California, part of a network affiliated with Last Harvest Ministries, Inc., a pro-life Christian organization in Garland, Texas seeks "early intervention" to stop women with unplanned pregnancies from having abortions.

The WPRC -- which recently became a licensed clinic offering some obstetric services -- offers free pregnancy testing and followup medical tests to women, in addition to free baby clothes, formula and other items for mothers who agree to attend its classes.

In a Jan. 19 letter to all five supervisors, Everitt wrote: "This group (WPRC) is misleading to women in trouble and not in keeping with the important mission of First 5 LA.

“Absolutely no money should go to the general operational support, website development or advertising of a group designed to undermine a woman's right to know the full range of her reproductive options.

“I also encourage you to inquire as to how California tobacco tax dollars ended up being granted to an organization fundamentally at odds with the noble mission of First 5 LA," Everitt wrote.

First 5 LA spokesman Victor Abalos defended the grant, stating the WPRC programs assisting children qualify it for funding.

Abalos also downplays the funding of the group's website, which has become a lightening-rod for criticism by pro-choice activists.

"Less than 10 percent of the grant is used for the website," Abalos said.

WPRC's funding application states that the website is one of the clinic's most important aspects and that First 5 LA funds would fully support it.

"The WPRC website has been an asset for the organization since its inception,” the application states. “The site averages 3,700 visits per day and provides a wealth of information to visitors including information on fetal development and comprehensive information on pregnancy.

“It also serves as an introduction to the center and provides local referrals to those in other areas,” according to the application. “The funds requested from First 5 LA would be budgeted to cover the monthly expenses of this vital and cutting edge service."

Other items funded by the grant include a new phone system, an expanded waiting room, brochures and pamphlets for campus outreach programs, baby supplies, and part of the clinic supervisor's salary.

These items, Abalos said, are in keeping with the mandate of First 5 LA to assist children aged "zero to five." Other pregnancy clinics in the area that provide similar services do not qualify for the tobacco tax funding, he said.

"Planned Parenthood doesn't fit in with our funding guidelines," Abalos said, adding that, to his knowledge, Planned Parenthood has never sought funding from the agency.

Like the WPRC, Planned Parenthood provides pregnancy testing and adoption referrals, but also provides emergency contraception, abortion services, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy prevention and other reproductive services.

Planned Parenthood clinics have been the target of violence by anti-abortion activists, and Planned Parenthood representatives did not respond to a reporter's calls for comment.

WPRC is one of some 25 Crisis Pregnancy Centers operated by anti-abortion activists in California. The center is part of the referral network operated by CPCWorld.com, an affiliate of Last Harvest Ministries, Inc. of Garland, Texas.

The CPCWorld website boasts that it "has earned a distinctive position in the world of the web as one of only two national/international websites targeted by California Abortion Rights Action League as being labeled 'a threat to women's health.'

“CPCWORLD.ORG accepts their 'branding' with pride,” the website states. “Pride that says we knew we were making a difference by the thousands that visit our site and now know that it has made such a dent that these people consider us a threat."

The other Crisis Pregnancy Center receiving First 5 LA grant funds, the Grace Elliott Center in Compton, is part of another network of such facilities.

That center is listed on the Lifecall website, which likens women with unplanned pregnancies to Mary, the mother of Christ. On the Lifecall site, women who have had abortions are counseled to accept God, pray and ask forgiveness.

For its part, WPRC offers a "post-abortion recovery workshop" that is advertised on its website as a Christian program with a bible-based workbook.

Topics include how "to restore the broken relationships that resulted from the abortion, including one's relationship to God," and how "to learn what genuine repentance means, to receive God's forgiveness, and learn to forgive ourselves as well as others."

Crosby, lead attorney for reproductive rights issues for the ACLU, says public funding of such groups also raises the issue of the separation of church and state, which is a Constitutional question.

"There can be public funding of religious charities, but there are strict guidelines on the activities that are allowed," Crosby said. "Funding recipients “cannot infuse their counseling with religious doctrine."

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