Posted on

Anti-Abortion ‘Infodemic’? Florida’s Tax-Funded Christian Pregnancy Centers Are Targeting Women Like Never Before

When Abby learned she was pregnant, the first thing she did was look online for support. As a college student in a small town in northwest Florida, she thought the Internet was her best hope to find help for her unplanned pregnancy with a boyfriend who had become abusive. 

Sifting through Google’s search results, she stumbled on an online-chat providing support for people in need of abortion care. The chat operator stressed the importance of a pregnancy test and referred her to a nearby pregnancy center in Deland called the Grace House. 

The center’s website welcomed people like Abby who didn’t have insurance and asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns. She scheduled a visit for the following day – a day she said she’ll never forget.

The horrific visit ended with Abby sobbing as center employees systematically pressured her to continue her pregnancy, prayed over her belly, and promised her free baby care products if she would come back for more “counseling.” 

“I deserved legitimate medical care and compassion,” said Abby. “But I know in that room, they didn’t see me or my future. They just saw a positive pregnancy test.” 

The staffers at Grace House were not there to help her receive abortion care, but instead to convince her and all others who enter the center for care to complete their pregnancy and be saved by Christianity in the process.

“I was fooled by this facility in a moment of vulnerability and desperation and trusting the wrong people,” Abby said.

The same “wrong people” are funded by the state’s Florida Pregnancy Support Services Program, which provides taxpayers’ money to more than 100 anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)” around the state. The stated goal of the program is to convince clients to carry their pregnancies to term rather than having abortions. 

As previously reported in an ongoing Florida Trident investigative series, the centers, including Grace House, are Christian-based organizations and often identify themselves as “ministries” and “missions.” Several legal experts have said the program runs afoul of the U.S. and Florida constitutions, the latter of which expressly forbids the state from aiding religious organizations. 

Despite its inherent problems, the program is now bursting at the seams in Florida.  Its annual budget has ballooned from $4 million to $25 million a year, an increase written into the controversial six-week abortion ban legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April. 

Kurt Filla is leading the state’s anti-abortion ad campaign.

Included in that funding explosion is a quadrupling of the program’s advertising budget to nearly $1 million a year, according to state records, paid out via the Florida Pregnancy Care Network, the non-profit tasked with administering the program for the state.

Kurt Filla, owner of the Michigan-based company, Filla Life Media, snared the state-funded advertising contract. Filla, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, is an outspoken conspiracy theorist who has backed false QAnon and vaccine tropes on the Internet and has written that the 2020 election was stolen, that God sends him angels and he’s heard the devil talk in his head, and that “global elites” are secretly trying to make people “impotent and immobile.” 

Jenifer McKenna, an activist with the Reproductive Health Accountability Fund at Hopewell, said the steep funding hike and hiring of ideologically radical companies like Filla Life are part of a trend in “abortion-hostile” states like Florida to divert tax dollars to CPCs and “ramp up targeted digital marketing to track down pregnant people, talk them out of abortion, and collect their sensitive data.”

“Researchers are calling the post-Roe landscape an ‘abortion infodemic’ with CPCs playing a leading role,” said McKenna, adding that the centers use “extensive digital strategies to intercept pregnant people seeking care, sow confusion, spread disinformation and obstruct access.”

After an initial visit, which at some clinics includes an ultrasound where individual center staffers pray for the fetus, clients are urged to return for “counseling” and parenting classes. In fact, while the state bills the centers as health care providers, a whopping 87.5% of program reimbursements go for counseling and classes, a Trident analysis of state records found. A significant portion of the new $20 million in annual spending will fund a doubling of the amount the state reimburses the centers for counseling from $75 an hour to $150 an hour, state records show.

To put the $150 hourly rate in perspective, the state reimburses registered nurses – who actually have formalized education and training for the critical work they do – only $32.07 per home health care visit, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Home health aides, who lack the RN’s credentials, are reimbursed a scant $18.04 per visit by the state.

When told of that increase, Amy Weintraub, who serves as reproductive rights director for the non-profit Progress Florida, called it “atrocious.” She noted that the “counselors” at the centers have no training or education requirements and are often hired based largely on their Christian faith.

“The fact that [state-funded pregnancy centers] are even allowed to use the word ‘counselor’ is such an affront because … they are not trained counselors,” said Weintraub.

That’s something Abby said she found out the hard way. 

“Oh, She’s Abortion-Minded”

A random online search for abortion in Fort Lauderdale turns up a website for the Hope Women’s Centers, which received $100,000 in state funding last year. Its website promises “free abortion information” and  “consultations on abortion pills, surgical abortion procedures, and emergency contraceptives.” 

Yet like all other state-funded pregnancy crisis centers, Hope, which is strongly aligned with the Rio Vista Church, has two goals: to dissuade clients from having an abortion and to try to save their souls. None of that is mentioned in the online material. 

It was the same in Abby’s case when she went to Grace House, which recently changed its name to Coastal Choices Women’s Clinic, a moniker that belies the fact that it vehemently opposes choice and isn’t a bona fide health clinic. The Trident left a detailed message for comment with a receptionist at Coastal; a promised return call was not received prior to publication. 

“There is no Planned Parenthood in my county, so I thought it was a smaller version of it,” said Abby. “And they said if you were considering abortion to come on in, so I felt that was an invitation.” 

Once inside, she was given a form to fill out with questions about her faith, her intimate relationships, even what her college grades looked like. It was the first clue she was inside a Christian ministry instead of a bona fide health clinic. 

“That gave me a little bit of a pause,” Abby said. “But it wasn’t until the actual counseling session that I deeply regretted walking in the doors.” 

She’d written in the form that she wanted an abortion.

“I watched a group of maybe three staff or volunteers crowd around my paper,” she said. “And I hear them say something to the effect of, ‘Oh, she’s abortion-minded, I’ll take her.’” 

In the counseling session that followed, which she attended with her partner, Abby took a pregnancy test that was kept hidden while staff pressed her for 40 minutes about her personal life. She said the staffers told her she was in no position to make the decision about an abortion for herself. 

When her partner was out of the room, Abby confided that she was in an abusive relationship. She said the counselor advised her to stay with her partner because the baby would give her purpose and help him step up as a man, and urged him, when Abby was outside the room, to stop her from getting an abortion because the procedure could kill her. 

After the test came back positive, Abby was handed her due date and a small replica of a fetus. A staffer asked her what she might name the baby. Distraught, Abby began sobbing. 

A Coastal Choices Women’s Clinic advertisement.

“There was so much talking over me when I was clearly having a breakdown,” Abby recalled. “[One staffer] starts praying over my stomach, she’s touching my stomach the whole time, and saying that I can start right away taking their parenting classes to earn baby bucks for their boutique to get baby clothes. And all the while I’m just so terrified.”

The experience was a far cry from the online promises, a contrast Weintraub said is common. The most fundamental deception in the advertising is the centers’ posing as health clinics when they don’t actually offer comprehensive reproductive health care services, she said. 

“They strip their web sites of anti-abortion lingo so that the intended victims will not realize that the place they are visiting is an anti-abortion center,” said Weintraub. “All kinds of tricky language is used to cloak their true intention.”

Now Filla Life Media, under the leadership of its extremist owner, is set to receive $1 million a year from Florida taxpayers for its marketing prowess. 

Tax-Payer Funded Anti-Abortion Marketing Agencies

Filla Life Media is a member of a national network called the Pro-Life Marketing Ethics Council made up of “unified Christ-centered and holistically pro-life” companies dedicated to promoting marketing strategies “grounded in biblical principles and informed by cutting-edge best practices.” 

A key strategy of the Florida program is to boost its anti-abortion clinics in Google search results and place ads on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. State documents show the aim of the campaign is to “generate leads and inquiries” from pregnant people and that it uses “marketing strategies … with the goal of enabling her to carry the pregnancy to term and choose parenting or adoption.” 

The new Filla Life marketing campaign is set to be the most aggressive to date, targeting women aged between 18 and 44 years old across Florida. Many of the ads specifically target teens and the uninsured. 

The campaign will employ the latest in tracking technology and will leverage behavioral data—like what people are or are not doing in an app, on a website, or how they interact with campaigns—to personalize the message. 

FPCN ads that appear at the top of Google searches for “unplanned pregnancy” or “pregnancy test” promise “Compassionate Counseling,” “Judgement-Free Pregnancy Support” and ”Pregnancy Pill Help.” Of 134 Google ads purchased this year by marketing companies on behalf of the state program reviewed by the Trident, only three explicitly warned the centers don’t provide abortions. 

While the new ad campaign is super-charged, it’s nothing new. For years, Floridians’ tax dollars have gone to anti-abortion marketing agencies with little to no transparency. Before Filla Life, an Illinois-based company called Caledon, and its subdivision Choose Life Marketing, held the advertising contract.

The digital tactics promoted by Choose Life, alongside other anti-abortion marketing agencies, sparked a congressional investigation in 2022 that cited a number of the company’s tactics, including geofencing strategies, which use sensitive data from abortion seekers to facilitate government surveillance, harassment, intimidation and even violence. The company also featured prominently in a report issued by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which exposed the deceptive tactics of several anti-abortion marketing agencies. 

Those marketing strategies also involved so-called “right-brain research” peddled by the Vitae Foundation, an anti-abortion research organization. Vitae uses extensive interviews with previously pregnant people involving repetition and relaxation techniques to “access the emotional mind and uncover deeply seated emotional needs and barriers,” according to its promotional materials. 

“By studying the right side of the brain, which controls the emotional, intuitive and creative aspects of the person, Vitae was able to focus on women’s hidden, emotional response to pregnancy, abortion and motherhood,” the foundation explained in a report. 

A key finding of the foundation is that “women carry an unwanted pregnancy to term when guilt wins out over shame,” a concept used by pro-life marketing agencies to craft their messaging to “abortion-minded women.” 

Marketing and Counseling: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The state’s CPC program is driven by more than just religious ideology and anti-abortion zeal – there is also the bottom line. 

To keep clients coming back for more taxpayer-financed $150-an-hour counseling, the centers often offer “baby bucks” that Abby mentioned, which is essentially credit for infant care products like diapers and clothes, for every hour they spend with staff in counseling and parenting classes. 

Because the Florida Constitution prohibits using state money to fund religious organizations, the program advises individual centers to obtain consent from clients before engaging in religious counseling. Counseling sessions that are religious in nature are also not supposed to be billed to the state, according to the program’s contract compliance manual. 

The state-funded Mary’s Pregnancy Resource Center unexpectedly shut its doors in late April.

Adherence to those rules is based on an honor system, termed “self-monitoring” in the FPCN contract. A glaring example of failure in that weak standard is the case of Mary’s Pregnancy Resource Center (MPRC), which the Trident first reported in June had abruptly shut down its Hollywood location amid six-figure tax liens and an IRS investigation. Employees weren’t paid and complained to the Trident that the couple that owned the center, Yohanka and Pete Reyes, were spending more time with their prized Saint Bernard show dogs than at the center.

MPRC received about a half-million dollars a year from the state even after its state registration as a non-profit was revoked. FPCN, it was learned, doesn’t have a mechanism to check if the centers retain their legally-required registration.

Rita Gagliano, FPCN’s executive director, responded to the Trident’s questions about MPRC in a written statement back in August, calling Mary’s an “isolated incident that the Florida Pregnancy Care Network is closely looking into and scrutinizing.”

“These organizations are completely independent of FPCN, and we only provide oversight regarding services that are billable to the program,” she continued. “We do not believe the allegations made involving this one center are representative of the program, how it runs or how it will continue to run.”

The Trident-exposed MPRC debacle could help drive change at the state level. Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book (D-Davie) sponsored a bill in October (SB 256) to mandate the Department of Health to make at least one annual unannounced visit to each state-funded center each year, as well as to impose fines on any center that issues faulty medical information. Earlier this month, Book reiterated the need for passage of her bill in a follow-up article about MPRC published in the Miami Herald.

Florida Minority Leader Lauren Book.

“Florida’s so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ need accountability and oversight – that is obvious and clear,” said Book in a written statement to the Trident. “They masquerade as healthcare clinics – pushing an anti-choice, anti-health agenda that the State of Florida absurdly continues to fund with taxpayer money.”

Progress Florida’s Weintraub said that because FPCN largely relies on the centers to “self-monitor” themselves, more regulation is badly needed. 

“There is no way the state or we as advocates can really know what happens [in the counseling sessions] unless the victim reaches out to us,” said Weintraub. “That makes it frustrating, and the state has made no effort in training them on separation of church and state issues.”

While the brunt of the state program funds are spent on counseling, little more than 10 percent is left over for health care services, which are usually limited to pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. For Weintraub the money trail tells the story. 

“It shows that they’re literally all talk,” she said. “They are not interested in providing health services. All they want to do is shame and pray and create emotional drama and chaos for someone who might be abortion-seeking. It’s a heinous use of taxpayers’ money.” 

About the Author: Grace Tillyard is an academic researcher and writer who specializes in reproductive politics and data-driven technologies.

About the Author: Bob Norman is an award-winning investigative reporter who serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Florida Trident and journalism program director for the Florida Center for Government Accountability. He can be reached via email at