Florida's Bad Anti-Abortion Law Still Hurts Palm Beach County, Planned Parenthood

Florida's unconstitutional plan to limit abortion forced a Palm Beach County teen program focusing on dropout prevention to cut Planned Parenthood out of the budget.

Though U.S. District Court judge Robert Hinkle delayed July implementation of a law that would have slashed funding, program officials say it is still too risky to rehire Planned Parenthood staff who had been mentoring teens.

The decision shows the lasting damage of Florida's unreasoned opposition to Planned Parenthood.

“There’s such a need in our community for this... [and after the court decision] Planned Parenthood [wouldn't have been able to] receive any taxpayer funds," says Lisa Williams-Taylor, chief executive officer of Children’s Services Council. "We had to do whatever it takes to keep these critical services operating.”

For the last three years, Palm Beach County’s teen outreach program has helped 662 teens stay in school and avoid risky behavior. Although the clubs do not provide abortions (or any clinical services), Florida’s latest anti-abortion law threatened its funding.

“The law put the program at risk,” says Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “[The Teen Outreach Program] has been running for a number of years and has helped hundreds of students during that time.”

The law,  passed in March, was designed to punish Planned Parenthood, which among many other tasks provides abortions in Florida. Last year, doctors from that organization were secretly taped talking about selling fetal tissue to undercover anti-abortion activists. But a Texas state investigation turned up empty and a grand jury instead indicted two undercover anti-abortion activists from the Center for Medical Progress. 

The Florida law, which still may be implemented, would require state investigators to analyze 30,000 abortion cases a year, define the length of a trimester, and block taxpayer funding for nonabortion services to abortion providers. It’s that last point that put 12 of Palm Beach County’s teen outreach programs at risk.

Teen outreach is operated by the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, a taxpayer-funded organization, which employs three agencies to carry out services for 41 clubs. One of those contractors, the Urban League of Palm Beach County, subcontracted Planned Parenthood staff to mentor teens.

"It's Planned Parenthood staff that implements a community service component of that program,” explains Lisa Williams-Taylor.

Nationally, the program has been found to lower risk of suspension by 52 percent, course failure by 60 percent, and risk of pregnancy by 53 percent.  “It was nice that Urban League agreed to take it on," Williams-Taylor says. "Our kids deserve it."

Planned Parenthood has been fighting the law in Tallahassee in federal court. Although Hinkle's injunction is not a final ruling, Planned Parenthood considers it a small victory.

“We’re talking to local partners and hope to renew contracts as soon as possible,” Goodhue says.

In this political climate, though, it might just be too risky. 
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson