Health Care

Pregnancy centers outline advertising plans in Arkansas grant applications

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

Many of the Arkansas crisis pregnancy centers that applied for state funding hope to use the money for digital advertising, including targeted ads aimed at Arkansans who might have an unplanned pregnancy, according to the applications.

Sixteen applicants filed requests for the funds by the Aug. 26 deadline, and the Department of Finance and Administration will finalize plans for distributing the money on Monday, spokesman Scott Hardin said in an email.

The applicants include 12 crisis pregnancy centers, one maternity home, one adoption agency, a West Memphis nonprofit, and an Oklahoma-based organization that says it helps pregnancy centers and drug rehabilitation clinics obtain government funding. The Advocate obtained copies of the applications through an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request.

Eight applicants want to use the funds for various forms of advertising between October 2022 and June 2023:

  • Caring Hearts Pregnancy Center, of Little Rock and North Little Rock, wants its entire $39,960 request to fund digital advertising with the help of two marketing agencies that specialize in pregnancy centers.
  • St. Joseph’s Helpers of Pulaski County d/b/a Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center, of Little Rock, wants its entire $40,000 request to fund advertising, the majority of which will be targeted online ads.
  • HopePlace in Newport wants $23,510 of its requested $40,000 to fund digital advertising, including $10,230 to put ads in front of people who search for abortion clinics or pills, and $2,000 more for a billboard.
  • The Cradle Maternity Support Center in Berryville wants its entire $5,880 request to fund advertising, $1,845 of which would build a website that pinpoints users’ locations.
  • New Beginnings Pregnancy Center in Benton requested $5,000 for advertising within its $40,000 total request but did not specify the type of advertising.
  • 1st Choice Pregnancy Resource Center in Hope wants $754 of its requested $10,501 to fund both physical advertising, including a specific billboard in the city, and digital advertising, including boosted posts on Facebook.
  • Open Arms Pregnancy Center asked for $39,998 and hopes to use $1,368 to place ads in the local newspaper. The center does not plan to advertise digitally.
  • Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center, of Camden, El Dorado and Magnolia, wants $2,300 of its requested $39,510 to fund a six-month physical and digital advertising campaign at the local movie theater in El Dorado.

Caring Hearts does not plan to use the money “directly to provide client services,” according to its application. The organization’s goal is “attracting abortion-minded and abortion-vulnerable individuals to our center so that we may provide our range of services that gives them alternatives to abortion.”

The executive directors of Caring Hearts, The Cradle and Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center declined to comment further on their applications. The directors of 1st Choice and HopePlace did not respond to requests for comment by Thursday.

Caring Hearts is “strategically” located next door to Planned Parenthood of Little Rock, according to its application, and Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center is next door to Little Rock Family Planning Services.

Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center’s “walk-in traffic” has “decreased substantially” since  Little Rock Family Planning Services stopped providing abortions in June, increasing the center’s need for digital advertising, its application states.

“Approximately 80% of the funds will be used to pay a marketing firm which will use a targeted approach to run advertising through social media and Google to increase awareness among our target client, abortion-vulnerable women between the ages [of] 15-35 that may be pregnant or become pregnant,” Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center’s application states.

Arkadelphia center among applicants

The 16 organizations that applied for Arkansas’ pregnancy resource center grant are:

  • The Cradle Maternity Support Center, Berryville: $5,880
  • 1st Choice Pregnancy Resource Center, Hope: $10,501
  • Hope of the Delta Center, Pine Bluff/Stuttgart/West Memphis: $32,225.00
  • Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center, Camden/El Dorado/Magnolia: $39,510
  • Pregnancy Resource Center for Southwest Arkansas, Arkadelphia: $39,954.71
  • Caring Hearts Pregnancy Center, Little Rock/North Little Rock: $39,960
  • Arkansas Baptist Children & Family Ministries, Little Rock: $39,962.50
  • Open Arms Pregnancy Center, Huntsville: $39,998
  • Acts of Hope, Blytheville: $40,000
  • HopePlace, Newport: $40,000.00
  • Changepoint Pregnancy Care & Parenting Center, Hot Springs: $40,000
  • New Beginnings Pregnancy Center, Benton: $40,000
  • St. Joseph’s Helpers of Pulaski County d/b/a Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center, Little Rock: $40,000
  • Heart to Heart Pregnancy and Family Care Center, Fort Smith: $40,000
  • PLUM Foundation, West Memphis: $40,000
  • TruthWorks LLC: $1,000,000

The PLUM Foundation is a West Memphis-based nonprofit with a mission “to revitalize and develop impoverished communities,” according to a 2020 news release from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

TruthWorks is an organization that helps pregnancy centers and drug rehabilitation centers receive government funding “by rigorously monitoring how dollars are spent, while ensuring the separation of private (faith-based services) and reimbursable services from the government,” according to its website.

TruthWorks and its proprietary, “easy-to-use interface” called BriteWorks Pregnancy System, operate in Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska and hope to expand into Arkansas, according to the application.

The other 15 applicants besides TruthWorks asked for a total of $275,991.21.

Other centers’ applications cited the same age group as their target clients.

Several applicants said they will gauge the effectiveness of their advertising efforts by surveying their clients and asking how they heard about the centers.

Clients at New Beginnings Pregnancy Center in Benton usually hear about the facility through word of mouth, executive director Janet Dixon said. New Beginnings’ sole online presence is its website, and its sole method of advertising is its sign, she said.

Dixon did not specify the type of advertising she wants to pursue in the grant application, but she expects to employ “a little bit of everything” if the center gets the money, she said.

“Letting people know that we’re here and what we have to offer is a big part of being here for people and supporting people,” Dixon said. “We can’t support them if they don’t know we’re here.”

“Data upon data”

Caring Hearts’ application says it has a working relationship with Liliana Grace Media, a marketing agency based in both Tennessee and Iowa. LGM is a member of Heartbeat International, an Ohio-based anti-abortion group that is facing scrutiny from Democratic U.S. Senators for collecting personal information from patients seeking abortions.

“LGM utilizes data upon data to help find women looking for options around the suspected unplanned pregnancy,” Caring Hearts’ application states. “That data is used to place visual digital ads inside apps, on websites, and social media platforms where our target client and her influencers may be visiting.”

Caring Hearts also works with Unified Technology Solutions, a Searcy-based information technology company that would help the pregnancy center run a campaign through Google Ads. The campaign could bring the center 2,000 online impressions per month, the application states.

The one-time grant funding should help the center maintain its advertising plans for years, the application states.

Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center also wants to use Google Ads, specifically its “pay-per-click” service. The facility entered into a contract in July with North Little Rock-based Media & More Consulting, which will manage the pay-per-click ads for $1,000 per month, according to the contract included in the grant application.

Pregnancy centers have been criticized in the past for using abortion as a keyword to further their advertising efforts, and the contract with Media & More Consulting should help “move away from” this method, Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center executive director Shelley Lewis said.

“We are trying to use more transparent and ethical advertising, and that’s why they’re going to help us do that, to make sure that we are helping our clients understand our free services in an honest and open way,” she said.

Choose Life Marketing, an anti-abortion marketing company based in Columbia, Missouri, assessed HopePlace Newport’s digital presence and found it lacking, according to HopePlace’s application.

HopePlace also wants to use Google Ads, the application states, using searches for abortion clinics, abortion pills and “many other words similar to these” to show ads to potential clients in a 60-mile radius around Newport.

Google Maps regularly directs users throughout the country to crisis pregnancy centers when they search for abortion providers, Bloomberg News reported in August. The 50-state analysis found that seven of the top 10 searches for abortion providers in Arkansas were for crisis pregnancy centers. South Carolina had the same results, and only Mississippi had more with nine out of 10.

Arkansas has at least 64 pregnancy resource centers, and 33 are affiliates of Heartbeat International, according to Heartbeat’s website.

Ten of the 12 crisis pregnancy centers that applied for the grant are Heartbeat International affiliates, according to Heartbeat’s web directory. Open Arms Pregnancy Center in Huntsville and the Pregnancy Resource Center for Southwest Arkansas in Arkadelphia are the exceptions.

Heartbeat offers its members website design and hosting services that The Cradle hopes to use with its grant money. The location-specific services and chat feature will create “a website that draws the woman into decision-making,” according to The Cradle’s application. The maternity home also hopes to buy radio, newspaper and billboard ads with the grant money.

Private companies’ ability to collect information about people based on their online activity is nothing new. In 2012, The New York Times and Forbes reported that Target used people’s shopping behaviors to determine whether consumers were pregnant and when their babies were due.

Crisis pregnancy centers’ potential access to people’s online behavioral data is not surprising, said Ali Taylor, president of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network.

“But if they are going to be receiving information that would allow them to narrow down who is doing these searches, or anything that could potentially reveal even the smallest item of personal information, [that] is incredibly concerning,” Taylor said.

Other grant spending goals

Several of the applicants wrote that they want to use the grant money to pay for rent, utilities, parenting classes or all of the above. Others want to purchase baby supplies such as diapers, diaper bags, baby clothes and car seats to supplement the donations they receive.

Some other potential uses of the grant money include:

  • ChangePoint in Hot Springs and New Beginnings in Benton each asked for $4,000 so their staff can attend Heartbeat International’s April 2023 conference in Louisville, Ky.
  • ChangePoint also asked for $23,000 to expand its building so it can offer more ultrasounds and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Open Arms asked for $5,445 to start an emergency fund for pregnant people experiencing housing instability.
  • Heart to Heart Pregnancy and Family Care Center in Fort Smith hopes to purchase a $40,000 ultrasound machine with better image quality than its current one. The application claims almost all of Heart to Heart’s “abortion vulnerable” clients have kept their pregnancies since the center started offering ultrasounds in June 2021.

Some centers hope to pay employees that have been working as volunteers, and some hope to hire new staff. The Pregnancy Resource Center for Southwest Arkansas wants to hire an ultrasound technician who “offers pro-life encouragement when deemed appropriate within the ultrasound room, rooted in medical knowledge and Christian truth,” according to the application.

Some pregnancy resource center directors said in August that they would not apply for the grant. They said they feared that accepting government money could restrict their religious missions even if the money would help them expand their services.

The finance department held a Zoom meeting Aug. 17 so potential applicants could ask questions about the grant. Sarah Teed, an Arkadelphia-based attorney, said she attended the meeting and used what she learned to fill out the Pregnancy Resource Center for Southwest Arkansas’ application.

The grant can pay employees’ salaries without funding their time spent sharing the center’s religious mission, Teed said, so the employees will have to meticulously keep records of how they use their time. This method of adhering to the grant’s rules is “not optimal” but is worth the effort in order to support the center’s clients, she said.

“Who we are can’t be separated from our faith, but grant money can definitely be separated into secular services versus faith-based sharing,” Teed said.

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