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Reagan Plans Rules to Curb Abortion Aid : Would Block Use of U.S. Funds to Counsel Women on Procedure

July 31, 1987|JAMES GERSTENZANG and CECILIE DITLEV-SIMONSEN | Times Staff Writers and

WASHINGTON — President Reagan, trying to reduce the use of government money in any abortion-related activity, announced plans Thursday to block clinics and family planning agencies from spending federal funds to counsel women about abortion services and clinics.

Reagan, speaking to a group of abortion opponents, disclosed a series of steps intended to use governmental authority to issue regulations without congressional approval in an effort to make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions.

He said organizations that provide abortion-related services and receive federal money would be ordered to separate those services from other programs financed by the government. The abortion-related activities could then be operated only with private funding.

Coexistence Cited

"At present, the coexistence of abortion with federally supported family planning services fosters the view that abortion is an acceptable and government-sanctioned method of family planning," the President said.

Reagan, long an opponent of abortion, has repeatedly denounced the practice during the 6 1/2 years of his presidency. However, the plans announced Thursday are one of the first concrete regulatory moves against abortion taken by his Administration, which has not initiated extensive efforts directly designed to halt the practice.

Under new regulations to be drawn up by the Health and Human Services Department, Reagan said, grant recipients will be required "to separate, financially and physically," the abortion-related programs from other family services.

In addition, Reagan ordered Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to issue "a comprehensive report on the health effects, physical and emotional, of abortion on women."

The President's announcement was attacked by the National Abortion Rights Action League, an organization that supports the right of women to choose whether they want to terminate pregnancies with abortions.

"Abortion is a constitutionally guaranteed right," said Richard Mintz, a spokesman for the group. "The federal government is saying it's not OK for clinics to tell women they have that right."

Eleanor Smeal, outgoing president of the National Organization for Women, said that NOW is considering court action to try to halt the proposed regulations from taking effect.

"We believe these regulations violate women's constitutional rights and they clearly violate medical ethics," she said. "The proposed regulations would deny medical information necessary to women who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy."

Reagan Action Praised

But, at a Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee hearing on family planning, abortion opponents praised the President's announcement. "Today, by actions of the President, courage and principle won over timidity and expedience," Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N.H.) said.

Health and Human Services spokesman Chuck Kline said that his department has been given 30 days to outline specific proposals. Once formal proposals are published in the Federal Register, a public comment period will ensue and, barring overwhelming opposition, the regulations will be issued.

The new rules would apply to about 4,500 programs around the nation that provide family counseling services.

In the current fiscal year, Kline said, the federal government is spending $142 million on the programs, which deal with such family planning issues as contraception, prenatal care, baby care and adoption.

Restricting Proximity

The proposed regulations, Kline said, are "an effort to further restrict the proximity of abortion-related activities to that which is legally permitted under the law. The feeling is proximity may make it easier for someone to obtain an abortion."

At the Senate committee hearing, which focused on increased funding for the government's family planning program, abortion foes urged Congress to revise the 17-year-old program. They called for:

--Barring from the program any organization that promotes or performs abortions, including those using private funds for such activities.

--Excluding any organization that operates a family planning clinic at the same site as an abortion clinic.

--Requiring federally funded clinics to notify the parents of teen-agers who seek advice on contraception.

Fired Official on Hand

Among those at the hearing was Jo Ann Gasper, who was fired last month as director of the family planning program after she refused to renew grants for two Planned Parenthood organizations. She argued that the funds should not be authorized because the law prohibits such money from being used in "programs where abortion is a method of family planning."

But supporters of the right to obtain abortions said that new limits on the family planning program would be disastrous to millions of low-income women who depend on services provided by the clinics funded by the program. Last year, 4.3 million women visited the clinics.

"We're outraged that President Reagan would deny poor women the same high-quality health care that wealthy women can obtain," Scott Swirling, executive director of the Washington-based National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Assn. Inc., said.

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