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Plans for Presidio pregnancy center get a boost with $25,000 hospital district grant

Carlos Morales
Marfa Public Radio
The small border city of Presidio, Texas is located more than an hour away from the nearest hospital and has few maternal care resources.

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Board members of the Big Bend Regional Hospital District on Tuesday approved a $25,000 grant for a local group planning to open two anti-abortion pregnancy centers in the region.

The funding from the district, a taxing entity that works to provide indigent health care in Brewster and Presidio counties, was among other grants awarded to various community groups, clinics and schools in the region.

The Presidio Pregnancy Center, a nonprofit group formed in early 2023, is hoping to open two locations in the Big Bend, first in Presidio and later in Alpine. The group is a local affiliate of a national anti-abortion network called Care-Net whose stated mission is to present people considering an abortion with “with realistic alternatives and Christ-centered support.”

The Presidio group has said its aim is to address the region’s lack of maternal care resources by offering pregnant people everything from classes on what to expect during a pregnancy to basic supplies like diapers. But abortion rights advocates have long criticized these types of facilities, saying pregnancy centers - often dubbed “crisis pregnancy centers” - masquerade as medical facilities and often provide misleading or false health information in their attempts to steer people away from abortions.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the hospital district’s executive director J.D. Newsom said the local group’s funding request would be used to “implement an initiative to support mothers from pregnancies to baby’s first year.”

“Key parts of the initiative are around education and to create a community support network,” he said.

Lynette Brehm, the pregnancy center’s board president, previously told Marfa Public Radio the facility would not provide any kind of actual medical care, but rather would focus on services like pregnancy training, helping women find an obstetrician and assisting with Medicare or Medicaid registration. The group has said in promotional materials that it will “not offer abortion services or abortion referrals” at its facilities.

The local abortion rights advocacy group Big Bend Reproductive Coalition opposes the pregnancy center plans.

“I think them getting this grant is lending them medical credibility that they haven’t earned,” said Lisa Kettyle, one of the group’s co-founders.

Kettyle said the district, which has supported an effort to open a new hospital-affiliated health clinic in Presidio, could have steered the pregnancy center’s grant funding to that initiative instead.

In an interview after Tuesday’s board meeting, Newsom said it’s “not unusual” for religious groups like the pregnancy center’s parent network to be involved in health care.

“I wouldn’t have an issue with getting health care from a Catholic hospital or a Methodist hospital,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know whether or not the Presidio Pregnancy Center will be “overtly evangelical.”

“I think we need to see them in action before we pass judgment on them,” Newsom said.

The Presidio Pregnancy Center was initially part of a federal grant application with the Big Bend Regional Hospital District to establish the “Big Bend Maternal Care Network,” a broader initiative aimed in part at expanding the number of doctors available to pregnant people, particularly economically disadvantaged Hispanic women. Brehm also serves as the district’s grant administrator and was slated to be the network’s project director.

The grant application was ultimately denied, but the district is continuing to look for funding opportunities for the effort. In the meantime, the $25,000 award to the pregnancy center is a sizable step forward for that initiative, as Newsom said the center’s budget for launching is $88,000.

“They’ve almost raised that amount, including the funding that the hospital district has given them,” he said.

Editor’s note: Lisa Kettyle is a volunteer music program host at Marfa Public Radio. Volunteer DJs are not involved in the station’s newsroom operations.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.