JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon may be pro-choice when it comes to abortion but recent actions indicate he is supportive of women who choose to give birth.
Nixon proved his commitment to birthing mothers when he signed into law a budget providing $1.9 million for the state’s Alternatives to Abortion (ATA) program, which provides services for disadvantaged women during their pregnancy and the first year of their child’s life.
“Like most every state, Missouri continues to face a challenging economic situation,” said Scott Holste, the governor’s press secretary. But, Holste noted, “Gov. 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 the governor in May with the ATA funding intact, Nixon signed it into law.
“The governor was very amiable in signing that bill,” said Kerry Messer of Missouri Family Network, lobbyist for the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission. “He had veto power over that, but he left that intact.”
However, in May, Nixon sent notices to all his department heads that state revenue shortfalls were more severe than what had been predicted. He asked each department to plan on a 10 percent spending cut and to prioritize how much could be cut from each program.
Pro-life advocates had not supported Nixon’s appointment of Margaret Donnelly as director of the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). When the DHSS recommendations came back, 18 programs were designated to be cut to some extent, with the complete elimination of the ATA program at the top of the list.
Pro-life and pro-choice groups contacted the governor’s office for the next few months regarding the fate of ATA. In the end, the governor resolved to retain full funding.
The DHSS contracts with private companies and nonprofit agencies for many ATA services, such 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 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 also are 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 for capital improvements at pro-life agencies already qualified for the ATA program.
Again, Nixon did not veto any of the funds designated for maternity homes and other agencies that assist pregnant women.
“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,” Messer said.
“We’re very happy that Gov. 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.”
Barbara Shoun is a contributing writer for The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.