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Ugly Payoff for Penny-Pinching

December 03, 1989

The appalling effects of state cuts in family planning clinics have become clearer in a legislative hearing that should give Sacramento a sense of urgency about restoring funds next month.

The state Department of Health Services has no count on clinic closures, but legislative experts estimate that 36 have been forced to close, including 13 in Los Angeles County. This is just the beginning. The $36-million family planning appropriation that was part of the budget approved by the Legislature was cut to $12 million by Gov. George Deukmejian. Efforts to restore the funds foundered in September despite grave warnings about the consequences. Legislators accused the governor of trying to bargain prison labor legislation as part of a compromise; the governor's staff insisted that the problem was an internal disagreement on family planning programs among members of the Legislature.

The impact of the cuts on basic family programs is obvious. The result can only be an increase in unwanted pregnancies and increased demand for abortions. In one largely rural county, two of three clinics have closed, leaving most women with no services. But the devastating impact extends beyond family planning services, according to testimony Thursday before the health and welfare subcommittee of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. The clinics play a vital role in curtailing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. Their services are being crippled at a time of mounting rates of infection, including epidemic levels of venereal diseases. The penny-pinching merely postpones costs of caring for sickly infants that will be much higher.

Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the subcommittee, has promised to introduce bipartisan legislation in January to restore the funding. There is no alternative. A spokesman for the governor said that he is prepared to sign any consensus agreement that emerges from the Legislature. That is promising.

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