In June, the Pregnancy Resource Center of Vista (PRC) put a plea on its fundraising website for $120,000 to replace its "mobile clinic"—an RV out of which the organization offers pregnancy testing, ultrasound services and pregnancy counseling.
On the agenda for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors' Sept. 11 meeting was a request from Supervisor Bill Horn that $10,000 from the county's Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund be given to PRC. In a letter to the board explaining the request, Horn wrote:
"While the need for ultrasound mobile clinics remains strong, the reality is that the Pregnancy Resource Center's fleet is aging and must be replaced. Each clinic offers free pregnancy services. Today's allocation of $10,000 will assist in covering the costs to purchase a new Image Clear Ultrasound Mobile Clinic."
Since 1998, Horn has given PRC $129,000 in county grants (one grant, for "up to" $100,000 to help build a "maternity home," contingent on PRC obtaining matching funds, was rescinded in 2004). The grants have been used to pay for fundraising events, the group's first mobile ultrasound unit, moving expenses and office hardware.
What Horn's request failed to mention is that PRC is a pro-life Christian organization. According to the group's website, the mobile clinic has helped 323 women change their minds about having an abortion, 230 of whom "accepted Christ into their lives." The RV the group hopes to purchase comes from Ohio-based Image Clear Ultrasound (ICU), which was founded in 2003 by Sylvia Slifko after, as she explains on ICU's website, "the Lord put in my heart the idea." The goal of ICU's "fleet" of ultrasound-equipped RVs, the group's website says, is to "provide women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy the free opportunity to confirm her pregnancy via a limited obstetrical ultrasound; enabling her to see her unborn child in order to make an informed life-affirming decision and hear the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Based on CityBeat's preliminary reporting for this story, David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, sent a letter to all five supervisors and to the county's legal counsel, Thomas Montgomery, on Monday afternoon.
"It is likely that approving the grant to PRC," Loy wrote, "would violate the United States Constitution, because the grant would almost certainly result in actual diversion of secular government aid to religious indoctrination.'"
And, Loy wrote, the grant would certainly violate the California Constitution's "No Aid Clause," which prohibits state and local governments from providing financial assistance to any organization "controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination."
"To avoid potential litigation over illegal expenditures of public funds, the Board should decline to approve the proposed grant to PRC," he wrote.
On Tuesday morning, shortly before the item was to be voted on, Horn asked that the grant recommendation be removed from the agenda. CityBeat was unable to determine by press time whether this was the result of Loy's letter. A spokesperson for Horn didn't respond to emails, and while Montgomery confirmed that he received Loy's letter, he said he couldn't comment on the matter "due to the confidentiality of attorney-client communications."
PRC's executive director Kimberly Brunson did not respond to an email from CityBeat asking for comment.
Horn, a conservative Republican who's represented the North County since 1995, has a history of giving money to organizations with religious underpinnings. In July 2010, CityBeat reported on $80,000 in grants he'd earmarked for Life Perspectives, a Christian organization that provides pro-life educational materials to K-12 schools. As a result of that story, county staff halted payment of a $20,000 grant from Horn to Life Perspectives that would have helped pay for the group's annual "Walk for Life" fundraiser. In September 2010, Horn tried again to grant money to the group, this time to cover the printing costs for the book Changed: Making Sense of Your Own or a Loved One's Abortion Experience, but failed to get support from his colleagues.
In August 2011, Horn granted $21,000 in county funds to Green Oak Ranch Ministries in Vista, which describes itself as a church and a "healing community under the Lordship of Jesus Christ."
Horn's also given $34,000 in county money to the Fallbrook Women's Resource Center, which provides services similar to PRC's and requires that its volunteers have "a love relationship with Jesus Christ."
Two years ago, county staff looked into whether Horn's grants to PRC were appropriate after North County resident Beverly Hale contacted county CEO Walt Ekard.
"This group is obviously a very conservative Christian group that administers ultrasounds' to pregnant girls in the hope of convincing them not to get an abortion," Hale wrote. She told Ekard that she'd contacted Horn's office but never received a response.
Ekard wrote to Hale that county staff who administered the grant program had spoken with PRC's executive director.
"The Director said that the Center provides services for women regardless of their religious belief," Ekard wrote. "She also said that they do not force their religious views upon women receiving their services. The Executive Director said that the only aspect of the services provided by the Center that relate to their religious beliefs is spiritual counseling that is offered to those who request that particular service. The other services provided: pregnancy testing, ultrasound with nurse consultation, maternity and baby needs, sexual health awareness and providing information regarding contraceptives, are services that are typically and appropriately provided by publicly funded social services agencies. Furthermore, the funds provided by the County to Pregnancy Resource Center have not been used for providing spiritual counseling and we will ensure that no future grants, if any are given, will be used for this counseling."
Loy argues that under the California Constitution, saying that grant money won't be used for "providing spiritual counseling" isn't good enough.
"California state law is crystal clear—the government cannot directly give money to religious organizations under any circumstances, even if the money is purportedly earmarked for non-religious purposes," he said.
PRC doesn't hide the fact that it's a religious organization. It refers to itself as a "ministry," and posts on its Facebook page include: "So far this year, we have had 66 abortion minded clients choose LIFE for their unborn babies and 57 dedicated their lives to Christ!" On its website, PRC warns: "Having an abortion may affect more than just your body and your mind—it may have an impact on your relationship with God."
Both PRC and the Fallbrook Women's Resource Center refer to themselves as "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" (CPC), described in a 2010 NARAL Pro-Choice California Foundation as the "clinic' arm of the anti-choice movement." Jennifer Coburn, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, described CPCs, which are often located in rural and lower-income areas, as a "trap."
Women go there, she said, "expecting to receive neutral and comprehensive care, and what they get instead is manipulation and ideology designed to coerce them and scare them into continuing their pregnancy."
The Fallbrook Women's Resource Center, for instance, says on its website that having an abortion can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer by 50 percent and cause infertility. There's no credible medical research to support either claim.