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Bid to Halt Family Planning Funds Fails : Health Official Voids Deputy's Move Against Planned Parenthood

January 25, 1987|DON IRWIN | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Demonstrators who braved foot-deep snow in the capital Thursday to march against abortion were heartened then by word that an end had been ordered to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, but within hours the order was countermanded.

The order, in the form of a memorandum to the 10 regional health administrators of the Health and Human Services Department, was issued Wednesday by Jo Ann Gasper, deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. It could have upset a politically sensitive arrangement under which about $35 million in grant money has been earmarked for Planned Parenthood in fiscal 1987.

The memo maintained that organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which among its activities advocates the right to abortion and provides abortions at 45 of the 190 centers it supports, are ineligible to share in $142.5 million in family planning grants under Title X of the Public Health Service Act. It directed that steps be taken to end the federal aid. Such a cutoff has been sought by anti-abortion groups.

Memo Rescinded

Gasper's instruction was countermanded Thursday by her superior, Robert E. Windom, assistant secretary for health, in a memo advising the same regional health administrators that Gasper "issued the memorandum without having obtained my clearance."

Windom said: "Since the memorandum raises significant policy issues, I am hereby rescinding it."

Departmental information officer Charles Kline said Friday that Windom followed up his memo by reprimanding Gasper, instructing her that "this was not the kind of policy decision to be made by a deputy assistant secretary."

Kline implied that Gasper had been advised to go through channels in the future if she sought to carry out sensitive policy changes. Windom's reprimand, Kline said, was "less related to what she did than to how she did it," especially in view of instructions, voted by the 99th Congress in appropriating funds for Health and Human Services, that the department do nothing on its own to alter the existing balance in aid for family planning.

Ordered 'Not to Speak'

Reached by telephone Saturday, Gasper would say only that she was "under orders not to speak to anyone about this."

Although President Reagan has opposed federal funding for abortions, appropriation bills since 1977 have included language that in effect permitted use of federal money to finance abortions if the mother's life is endangered. William W. Hamilton Jr., director of the Washington office of Planned Parenthood, said his organization has respected a prohibition against direct use of Title X funds to pay for abortions.

Congressional foes of abortions have twice arranged for audits of Planned Parenthood offices, first by the Health and Human Services inspector general, then by the General Accounting Office, Hamilton said, and "found no evidence of the misuse of federal funds for abortions."

Protests From Congress

Hamilton said he was advised Thursday that anti-abortion demonstrators had been told of the memo cutting off funds by Gasper, who he said works closely with White House aides opposed to abortion. He said that he had passed the word to members of Congress who support Planned Parenthood and that they in turn had protested to top department officials.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the health and environment subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Saturday that he planned a subcommittee investigation of Gasper's activities.

"This is the most recent in a long series of Administration attacks on family planning services, and it only shows that what they are unable to get through legal means they are prepared to do illegally," Waxman said.

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