Incensed by a pastoral letter from Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger M. Mahony that sharply criticized the Los Angeles school board's plans to offer birth-control counseling and contraceptives at high school clinics, board member Roberta Weintraub on Friday challenged the religious leader to debate the issue.
Weintraub suggested the debate in a telephone call to a Los Angeles radio program Friday after learning of the archbishop's letter.
"It's time that this issue get debated nationally," she said from New York, where she was attending a school conference. "What better place to do it than Los Angeles? I am willing to do it anyplace, anywhere."
The four-page pastoral letter, which was released Thursday, urged Catholics and others "who value the family" to put pressure on school officials to abandon their plan to set up health clinics at Los Angeles, San Fernando and Jordan high schools.
In his letter, Mahony said school-based health clinics that offer birth-control services "send a message to students legitimizing behavior contradicting our Judeo-Christian ethic." He said such clinics would undermine parents' rights by allowing teen-agers to make "serious health decisions" concerning oral contraceptives, abortion and treatment of venereal disease without proper parental guidance.
Weintraub said she hoped a debate would help "cool the issue down, especially in regard to abortion." The clinics, she said, will not offer abortion referrals but may direct a pregnant teen-ager to another agency that can make such referrals.
Weintraub, who originally proposed the clinics with board member Jackie Goldberg, said she did not understand why the archbishop chose to wait until now--a year after the clinics were initially proposed--to call for a protest campaign.
The school board held a public hearing last November, during which a representative of Mahony read a letter from him that Weintraub said was "mild" in its criticism of the clinic proposal and did not call upon Catholics or others to actively protest the plan.
The board formally approved the clinics in a 7-0 vote earlier this year.
According to Weintraub, clinics in other cities have been effective in combatting the high teen-age pregnancy rate and in identifying and treating common adolescent health problems, such as eating disorders, that might otherwise go untreated.
District officials said about 79 school-based birth-control and health clinics are in operation on high school campuses throughout the country. Clinic proposals have stirred opposition mostly from conservative and religious groups in several cities, notably in Chicago, New York and San Diego. The San Diego school board rejected a clinic proposal earlier this year after local Catholics mounted a one-day boycott of city high schools.