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Now Here's a Real White-Hat Issue : Family Planning: Democrats and Republicans alike voted to restore clinic budgets. Gov. Deukmejian should restrain his veto pen.

January 21, 1990|TERRY B. FRIEDMAN | Terry B. Friedman (D-Los Angeles) chairs the Assembly Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health

Even partisan legislators will admit that there are two sides to most controversial issues, with more shades of gray than of black and white. An exception, however, is the funding of California's family planning clinics.

Both houses of the state Legislature voted overwhelmingly last week to restore clinic funding that had been slashed by Gov. Deukmejian. Those cuts, reducing state funding from $36 million to just $12 million, forced 13 clinics in Los Angeles and 37 others throughout the state to close. Tens of thousands of needy women were left unserved.

Despite the broad support among both Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly for restoration of the funding, Deukmejian may still veto the measure: His public statements have been far from reassuring. There are good reasons for both liberals and conservatives to override such a veto.

Liberals support family planning because, in addition to birth-control services, the clinics provide vital health care to low-income women. In California, one-fifth of our population has no health insurance. Uninsured working people often have no better access to health care than those who depend on MediCal, which itself serves far fewer people than the number who need help.

As a result, poor and uninsured women go to family planning clinics for services otherwise unavailable to them, such as comprehensive examinations that can detect cervical and breast cancer, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases. At a legislative hearing last November, Dr. Marcus Conant, co-chair of the Governor's Leadership Task Force on AIDS, testified that the clinics also provide life-saving AIDS testing and counseling to high-risk sexually active young women. He predicted an increased incidence of AIDS unless the clinics' funding is restored.

There are good fiscal, social and political reasons for conservatives, including Deukmejian, to support family planning, too. A recent study by UC San Francisco established that the state saves $12.20 for every $1.00 it spends on family planning. Because of the funding cuts, the same study estimates that more than 57,000 additional unwanted pregnancies will occur this year, resulting in $190 million in avoidable MediCal and other social services costs. Family planning is therefore one of the most cost-effective state programs.

Neither side of the abortion debate gains from family planning cuts, since no state Office of Family Planning funds may be used to perform abortions. Indeed, the goal of abortion opponents is actually furthered by the program. Simply stated, you don't need an abortion if you're not pregnant.

Through their counseling services and the birth-control devices they offer, family planning clinics help women, especially teen-age girls, avoid pregnancy. History and common sense convincingly prove that whether or not women have the legal right to choose abortion they will risk their lives to have illegal abortions. Therefore, the rational anti-abortionist has no reason to oppose family planning.

It is also good politics to support family planning. There is no visible public constituency urging closure of the clinics. Quite the contrary, they enjoy broad, bipartisan support. Many anti-abortion Republicans now face serious political challenge, demonstrated most recently by Democratic State Sen. Lucy Killea's upset victory in a conservative San Diego district.

Understandably, many anti-abortion legislators will not alter their positions on an issue fraught with such deep religious and moral overtones. For such politicians, support for family planning offers an intellectually consistent way to demonstrate concern for women's reproductive health to pro-choice voters.

Family planning ought to be a motherhood and apple pie issue. It saves lives and money, reduces abortions and is good politics. Despite this, for no apparent rational reason, Deukmejian last week suggested that the clinics should provide only information about birth control--no services, no health care--and therefore $12 million is sufficient. In fact, his 1990-91 budget would maintain the cut for another year.

But why go to the mat with a veto? Saving family planning would be a good way for the Legislature and the governor to start off the new year harmoniously. And by signing the funding restoration bill now, Deukmejian would avoid a nasty and politically risky fight.

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