Arkansas Advocate

Twenty-one pregnancy resource centers throughout Arkansas have applied for  taxpayer funds to bolster services for the second year in a row.

The $1 million grant program will provide financial support to the centers, which are sometimes called “crisis pregnancy centers” and are often religiously affiliated. Adoption agencies and maternity care homes are also eligible for the grant, which is aimed at facilities that encourage pregnant Arkansans to give birth and do not perform or affiliate themselves with abortion in any way.

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The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration received 29 applications late last year and will start distributing funds for eligible applicants this month, officials said in December.

These 21 pregnancy resource centers applied for state funds to bolster their services for the second year in a row and requested the following amounts:

 

  • Arkansas Baptist Children & Family Ministries, Little Rock: $39,999
  • Caring Hearts Pregnancy Center, Little Rock/North Little Rock: $39,461
  • Changepoint Pregnancy Care & Parenting Center, Hot Springs: $40,000
  • Compassion House, Springdale: $40,000
  • The Cradle of Carroll County, Berryville: $40,000
  • Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center, El Dorado: $37,038
  • Heart to Heart Pregnancy and Family Care Center, Fort Smith: $40,000
  • Hope of the Delta Center, Pine Bluff/Stuttgart/West Memphis: $31,864
  • Hope’s First Choice, Hope: $10,218
  • HopePlace, Fordyce: $40,000
  • HopePlace, Monticello: $31,864
  • HopePlace, Newport: $40,000
  • Informed Choices Women’s Center of the Ozarks, Harrison: $39,993
  • Informed Choices Women’s Center of the Ozarks, Mountain Home: $40,000
  • New Beginnings Pregnancy Center, Benton: $47,970
  • Open Arms Pregnancy Center, Huntsville: $40,000
  • Pathways Resource Center, Texarkana: $40,200
  • PLUM Foundation, West Memphis: $40,000
  • Pregnancy Help Clinic, Clarksville: $39,956
  • Pregnancy Resource Center for Southwest Arkansas, Arkadelphia: $39,919
  • St. Joseph’s Helpers of Pulaski County d/b/a Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center, Little Rock: $40,000

Not every applicant will receive its entire request since the amount of requested funds totaled nearly $1.1 million, Doris Smith, the head of the office of intergovernmental services at the finance department, said last month.

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The state Legislature passed a law in 2022 to create the first year of the grant, and 23 facilities received funds between September 2022 and January 2023. Lawmakers rebooted the grant with a new law in April.

Repeat applicants primarily want to use this year’s funds for the same or similar purposes as the previous cycle, according to the applications the Arkansas Advocate received through the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Several new and repeat applicants requested funds for targeted digital advertising campaigns aimed at people whose online behavior indicates they are facing unplanned pregnancies.

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Republican leaders statewide have held up pregnancy resource centers as critical since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022 and Arkansas subsequently outlawed abortion, with a narrow exception if the pregnant person’s life is at risk. Some lawmakers have said that they see these facilities as tools to help reduce infant, child and maternal mortality in the state.

Some pregnancy resource centers in Arkansas have reported increases in demand for their services since Roe was overturned, Maria Speer, executive director of the Life Choices center in Conway, told lawmakers in August.

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A few grant applications made the same statement, including Hope’s First Choice in Hope, which received $10,501 during the first grant cycle.

Most applicants are local nonprofits, but two major health care systems also applied for grant money. Baptist Health in Central Arkansas and St. Bernards in Northeast Arkansas both have programs aimed at helping under-resourced pregnant individuals, according to their applications.

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“Being that the medical center was founded on Catholic principles, no staff member can encourage or impress upon patients an alternative to an actual birth of their child,” the St. Bernards application states. “…Counseling services and material supplies will be available to those women who may be considering alternatives in the hope that the mother feels encouraged and empowered to continue the pregnancy.”

Housing needs

Several applications state that pregnant Arkansans seeking the services of pregnancy resource centers tend to be homeless or in precarious housing situations.

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Compassion House in Springdale, which received $32,000 last year, states that it is Arkansas’s only transitional living facility for pregnant and parenting teenagers in crisis. The facility requested $40,000, primarily for counseling services, advertising, cybersecurity and staff training.

New applicant Compact Family Services, known as Highlands Maternity Home or Assemblies of God Family Services Agency, serves pregnant youth in the foster care system and has an affiliate adoption agency. The center requests $40,000 for staff salaries and training as well as rent and utilities.

The Hot Springs facility aims to help pregnant and parenting teenagers remain in school, citing this as an incentive to carry pregnancies to term, according to the application.

“Highlands has specifically designed a program to not only educate young women on all life-affirming choices, but also to remove any and all obstacles that could make pregnancy termination feel like it should be considered,” the application states.

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Meanwhile, grassroots organizers in Benton are working to start a maternity home for pregnant adults called Good Roots, according to its application requesting $6,667.

“After working in pregnancy ministry through our church and our local pregnancy resource center… we found that every woman we ministered to had housing issues of some sort during their pregnancies,” the application states.

1st Choice in Fort Smith has seen an increase in demand for not only housing aid but other basic needs for pregnant Arkansans such as clothing and transportation, interim Executive Director Sara Short said in an interview.

“Our need for physical resources has doubled or even tripled from last year,” she said. “…It seems like more people are in need, or in bigger need than they have been, or maybe they’re just more willing to ask for help.”

1st Choice was one of several centers that did not apply for the grant in 2022 out of concern for potential “strings attached” to the acceptance of government money, then-Executive Director Christie Robertson said at the time.

Speer, of Life Choices in Conway, reiterated this concern to lawmakers in August and said she hoped the state could “ease some of those tensions” in the future. Her center did not apply for the grant in 2022 or 2023.

However, 1st Choice decided the grant funds would help meet the community’s needs and would not interfere with the center’s faith-based mission, Short said.

“We protect what we are able to do here by not usually taking any government funding, but there was no small print… so we decided to go ahead and go for it,” she said.

Advertising efforts

Several repeat applicants that received money for advertising last year said their marketing efforts were effective and they hope to continue or expand them with more grant support.

HopePlace Newport, Caring Hearts in Little Rock and North Little Rock, and Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center in Little Rock all used grant money last year to contract with Google Ads and hope to continue these efforts, according to their applications.

The advertising deal had a “remarkable” impact on Caring Hearts’ website traffic and “calls and appointments from individuals who were initially abortion-minded grew substantially,” its new application states.

Google Maps regularly directs users throughout the country to anti-abortion pregnancy centers when they search for abortion providers, Bloomberg News reported in August 2022. The Guardian reported in June 2023 that Google made $10 million from ads directing abortion seekers to these centers in the year since Roe v. Wade’s reversal.

HopePlace Monticello, Hope of the Delta and new applicant ABBA Charities all want to work with Google to boost their online visibility, according to their applications. Hope of the Delta’s entire request of nearly $32,000 is for its advertising goals.

These eight centers applied for the grant for the first time and requested the following amounts:

 

  • 1st Choice, Fort Smith: $53,770.50
  • ABBA Charities, Benton: $40,000
  • Baptist Health Foundation, Little Rock/North Little Rock: $39,000
  • Compact Family Services d/b/a Assemblies of God Family Services Agency, Hot Springs: $40,000
  • Good Roots Maternity Care Home, Benton: $6,667
  • Life Choices, Crossett: $39,380
  • St. Bernards Development Foundation, Jonesboro: $40,000
  • St. Francis House, Springdale: $40,000

Additionally, HopePlace Fordyce and HopePlace Monticello want to work with Choose Life Marketing, an anti-abortion marketing company based in Columbia, Missouri. The company has already worked with HopePlace Newport, according to its 2022 application.

ABBA Charities hopes to advertise online with Facebook and Instagram as well as Google, according to its application, and to put up “strategically placed billboards” to draw clients to the center in Benton.

Changepoint Pregnancy Care & Parenting Center seeks funding for online, radio and physical advertising, including “school programs, pamphlets and school yearbooks” to reach potential clients outside its immediate vicinity in Hot Springs, its application states.

Other services

The 29 applicants requested funds for a range of other needs, including:

  • Baby clothes, formula, bottles, car seats, diapers and other baby supplies
  • Rent and utilities
  • Part-time or full-time staff salaries, which makes up the entire $40,200 request from Pathways Resource Center in Texarkana
  • The means for center staff to attend an annual conference for Heartbeat International, an Ohio-based anti-abortion group with which many pregnancy resource centers are affiliated
  • Prenatal, birthing and parenting classes and materials

Baptist Health Foundation requested $39,000 for supplies and brochures for its Pregnancy Wellness Centers in Little Rock and North Little Rock. The centers educate low-income new and expectant parents on pregnancy and birth, financial stability and newborn care, according to its application.

These incentive-based educational programs are free and participation has doubled in the past year, Baptist Health Communications Director Cara Wade said.

“These grant funds will allow us to meet the growing demands for education, services and resources,” she said.

Arkansas Advocate is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arkansas Advocate maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sonny Albarado for questions: info@arkansasadvocate.com. Follow Arkansas Advocate on Facebook and Twitter.