By Barbara Shoun
JEFFERSON CITY – Gov. Jay Nixon may be pro-choice when it comes to abortion, but recent actions would indicate that he is just as supportive of those women who choose to give birth.
Nixon proved his commitment to birthing mothers when he signed into law a budget that provides $1.9 million for the state’s Alternatives to Abortion (ATA) program.
“Like most every state, Missouri continues to face a challenging economic situation,” said the governor’s spokesman, Press Secretary Scott Holste. “The governor wants to ensure that the state lives within its means, and isn’t forced to raise taxes or cut essential services.”
Holste further commented that “Governor Nixon believes the Alternatives to Abortion program continues to provide valuable services to pregnant women and new mothers in Missouri, so the funding for the program was kept intact this fiscal year.”
ATA has been in existence for about 10 years. Former Governor Matt Blunt, a Republican, had pushed for increased funding each year of his term until it had reached $1.9 million when he left office.
When Nixon, a Democrat, took office as governor, he matched that amount in his proposal to the Legislature. The program and its funding underwent normal scrutiny as it made its way through the budget process of the House of Representatives and Senate; and when the budget was returned to him in May with the ATA funding intact, Nixon signed it into law.
“We’re pleased all the way around,” said Kerry Messer of Missouri Family Network, lobbyist for the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission. “The governor was very amiable in signing that bill. He had veto power over that, but he left that intact.”
However, in May, Nixon sent notices to all his department heads saying that state revenue shortfalls were deeper and more severe than what had been predicted. He asked each department to plan on a 10 percent spending cut. He further asked that each department head prioritize how much could be cut from each program.
Messer explained that pro-life advocates had not supported Margaret Donnelly’s appointment as Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). When the DHSS recommendations came back, there were 18 programs designated to be cut to some extent. At the top of the list was the complete elimination of the ATA program.
Pro-life and pro-choice groups contacted the governor’s office for the next few months regarding the fate of the program. In the end, the governor resolved to retain full funding for the program, which provides services for disadvantaged women during their pregnancy and the first year of their child’s life.
The DHSS contracts with private companies and non-profit agencies for many of the ATA services. These include such things as prenatal care, medical and mental health care, ultrasound services, and food, clothing and supplies relating to pregnancy.
For mothers who choose to place their babies for adoption, DHSS can offer adoption referrals.
Those who plan to keep and care for their children may access parenting classes, help with utilities and transportation.
Drug and alcohol testing and treatment, educational services, job training and placement, domestic abuse protection, and establishing and promoting responsible paternity are all part of the program.
In the midst of all this, lawmakers sent the governor a second bill, House Bill 21, that dealt with how federal stimulus dollars were to be spent. In this bill, some $2 million of the stimulus package was designated to be sent to pro-life agencies for capital improvements.
Again, Nixon did not veto any of the funds designated for maternity homes and other agencies that assist pregnant women.
These funds will go to established agencies already qualified for the ATA program, explained Messer. They have already demonstrated to have been accountable and effective.
“In many of those agencies, a portion of the work is done with volunteers, so the money will be used for actually helping people in need,” he said.
“We’re very happy that Governor Jay Nixon is understanding in this area,” Messer commented. “These women are in need. We’re saving babies and saving lives.
“We’re very pleased with the governor. Missouri Baptists and other pro-life agencies should show their appreciation.”