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West Virginia places anti-abortion pregnancy center coalition at the helm of $1M grant program

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A West Virginia coalition that helps support a network of anti-abortion pregnancy centers in the state is receiving $1 million in taxpayer dollars to distribute to organizations committed to encouraging people not to end their pregnancies.

The West Virginia Pregnancy Center Coalition has been selected to manage the new West Virginia Mothers and Babies Support Program, the state department of health and human resources announced this week.

Authorized by the GOP-dominated state Legislature and Republican Gov. Jim Justice earlier this year, officials said the program is intended to help support pregnant women and families following the passage of the state's near-total abortion ban in September 2022.

In a statement, West Virginia Pregnancy Center Coalition Executive Director Jenny Entsminger commended Justice and other state leaders for recognizing "the need of our state to support pregnant women and families with practical help as they seek to provide safe and loving care for West Virginia infants."

"This program will provide much-needed support to pregnant women and families with infants, and I am confident that the Pregnancy Center Coalition will do an excellent job of administering it," Justice said in a press release.

West Virginia State Health Officer Dr. Matthew Christiansen said the program will provide "medical care, parenting and life-skills education, financial assistance, baby supplies and other material assistance."

The grants under this program are available for anti-abortion pregnancy centers, maternity homes, adoption agencies and "life-affirming social service organizations."

The law prohibits organizations from receiving funds that "perform, prescribe, refer for, advocate for, or encourage abortion" or affiliate with any organizations that do.

The announcement comes as Pennsylvania's new Democratic governor plans to end the state's three-decades-old contract with anti-abortion Real Alternatives, the first organization in the nation to secure significant state and federal subsidies to support anti-abortion counseling centers.

After the Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion in 2022, state lawmakers mostly in predominantly red states have approved millions for organizations whose aim is to discourage women from seeking abortions, commonly called pregnancy resources or crisis pregnancy centers.

Often religiously affiliated, the anti-abortion centers are not licensed medical facilities and do not provide medical services such as pre- or post-natal care or other health care for uninsured women, unlike clinics that offer abortions — which are subject to strict government regulations and patient privacy laws. The centers do sometimes have nurses on staff or as volunteers.

As the West Virginia program's management agency, the West Virginia Pregnancy Center Coalition will be required by law to establish qualification requirements for organizations to receive funding, advertise the program and contract with organizations for services.

To qualify for funding, organizations must be nonprofits that provide training and annual evaluations for their employees and volunteers and maintain policies for child abuse reporting, as well as medical emergencies and client complaints.

The West Virginia Pregnancy Center Coalition will need to establish reporting requirements and an auditing procedure.

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