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JOSEPH N. BELL

Family Planning: The Deepest Cut of All

January 26, 1989|JOSEPH N. BELL

Gov. Deukmejian, I'd like to introduce you to a woman you probably wouldn't meet in your normal social rounds.

I'll call her Jean Anderson, although that's not her real name.

She's 17 years old, unmarried and the mother of a 9-month-old child. At the time of the baby's birth, she was living in Anaheim with the father, but no longer.

No one had ever explained contraceptives to her--and besides she had no money to buy them. Because she didn't want a second child right away, a friend suggested she visit Planned Parenthood. There, she was given a thorough physical examination and the oral contraceptives she chose. Because her common-law husband was earning $1,300 a month, Jean had to pay $8 a visit for the help she received.

Then a life that had been difficult turned tragic. The baby's father lost his job, the couple could no longer pay the rent, and he cut out. Jean's medical examination turned up some serious problems that needed treatment. The baby's paternal grandparents took the child, and Jean--with no family to turn to--ended up on the street.

She had long since run out of pills when she was raped one night on the street and in desperation--fearful she was pregnant--went back to Planned Parenthood. Today they are working with her health problems, have put her back on birth control (she mercifully wasn't pregnant), helped her find shelter and steered her to other agencies that are helping her look for work and restore the beginnings of self-respect.

In your budget, governor, you chose to save $36.2 million by eliminating all state funding for family planning. About $317,000 of that $36.2 million you want to save goes to Planned Parenthood in Orange County to help people like Jean.

If that money isn't restored by you or the Legislature, 5,300 women served in the county by Planned Parenthood each year could be cut off from hope. And that is only a small part of the impact here. An additional 25,700 Orange County women who receive similar services from the county and a number of private community clinics could also be abandoned to serious health problems and thousands of unwanted pregnancies.

But those are numbers, and politicians love to deal with numbers because then they

don't have to look at the people behind them. One such person is a 31-year-old we will call Maria G., who has five children and doesn't want any more. Her husband earns $731 a month, and the family lives on it--sort of. They aren't on welfare--just poor. Maria wanted an IUD but couldn't afford it until she went to Planned Parenthood. With that help she can concentrate her energies on raising the family she has. Without that help, she probably would have continued to have babies--and the family most likely would have ended up on the dole.

If the humanitarian aspects of family planning do not appeal to you, governor, maybe you should take a harder look at the economic side. According to Margie Fites Seigle, who heads Planned Parenthood in Orange County, studies have shown that for every dollar spent on family planning, the state saves $6.60 in subsequent welfare and medical costs.

You see, governor, there are a lot of people out there--people who are contributing substantially to the economy of the state--who are either too poor or too ignorant to understand or procure birth control. They need help, and you are trying to pull the rug out from under them.

Seigle is angry at the statement of a California Pro-Life Medical Assn. spokeswoman who was quoted in The Times as saying that your budget-cutting would "protect" women from family planning. "Protect them from what?" Seigle asked rhetorically. "From birth control information and education and health screening? Is that what they want these women protected from? If it's abortion they're concerned about, (they should understand that) no money from (the) family planning (program) is used for this purpose."

The bottom line is that when the financial crunch comes, it is the poor, the weak, the halt and the blind who get stiffed. They don't have much of a lobby and apparently can't deliver very many votes. But they aren't numbers, governor; they're people. More than 30,000 of them--people like Jean and Maria--live in Orange County, and they're going to be badly hurt if you don't change your mind about family planning.

Hell, we're all going to be hurt.

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