Social services agency's funding could be cut in Washougal

2 councilors want to end nonprofit's subsidy because of potential referrals to abortion providers

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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photoConnie Jo Freeman

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photoDave Shoemaker Washougal city councilors

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Two Washougal city councilors want to rescind a $7,500 subsidy to a social service organization because it provides pregnant women a list of low-income medical clinics, some of which offer patients information about where to seek abortions.

Council members Dave Shoemaker and Connie Jo Freeman say they want to discuss stripping the local office of the Children's Home Society of Washington of its city funding, arguing that the organization tacitly endorses the procedure. A discussion of whether to strike funding for the Children's Home Society of Washington could take place at Washougal's Dec. 2 city council meeting.

"I don't want to subsidize what they do," Shoemaker said. "I don't think using taxpayer money is appropriate."

Children's Home Society of Washington, a local arm of a statewide nonprofit, provides low-income families with food, school supplies and clothing. But it also disseminates information about low-cost medical clinics in Clark County.

The interim director of the nonprofit, Cathy Garland, said her organization does not sanction any medical procedure and says that without Washougal's subsidy, the organization would have to shutter its doors. The organization has been housed at the city's East County Family Resource Center, across from City Hall, for 10 years.

The majority of its clients are not looking for medical advice, Garland said. Since July, the organization has worked with roughly 300 families. Garland said when the nonprofit fields requests about medical services, it distributes a list of clinics handed out by Clark County Public Health.

This isn't the first year the organization has received scrutiny. Last year, Shoemaker also opposed the same $7,500 subsidy, saying it wasn't Washougal's place to pay for social services. This year, Shoemaker's position on the nonprofit has calcified following his discovery that the organization "referred" clients to Vancouver-based Sea Mar Community Health Centers, which provides some patients with family planning resources — including, at a patient's request, information about abortion — through Planned Parenthood.

Shoemaker said his opposition of the nonprofit wasn't solely about abortion. He said he believes the city already does enough for the Children's Home Society of Washington, considering the city provides the nonprofit with office space in a city-owned building free of charge.

Council member Freeman has joined Shoemaker in potentially opposing the city subsidy, asking at a Nov. 18 city council meeting why an organization would send people to "a place that doesn't care or take care of women and the unborn child in the fashion that should be done," in reference to Sea Mar.

As an alternative to Sea Mar, Shoemaker and Freeman point to Camas-based Community Pregnancy Clinic, a Christian center that's anti-abortion.

There's a catch in that, Garland said: The Children's Home Society of Washington already provides its clients with information about the Community Pregnancy Clinic. Shoemaker said that doesn't change his position.

"For me, it doesn't change anything," he said. "They still refer people for medical procedures that I don't think are beneficial to the community."

Freeman was not available for comment.

Clinic provides information

Abortion remains as controversial as ever. But from its end, Sea Mar disputes the characterization that it tacitly endorses abortion. Most of the clinic's work is spent providing medical, dental and mental health care to the insured and uninsured, said Mark Carlson, Sea Mar's Vancouver medical Clinic manager.

If a patient calls the clinic and asks for information about where to receive an abortion, Sea Mar would share information about Planned Parenthood, Carlson said. He said the information doesn't constitute a "referral." While Sea Mar doesn't perform abortions, Planned Parenthood's Vancouver clinic does.

"It's not an endorsement if a person is asking for information in a difficult time for them," he said. "Being provided with more information so they're educated on what to decide on … I don't consider that an endorsement."