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Crippling Family Planning

Family planning services for many people who are not remotely involved in the political debate over abortion are at risk in California because of the intransigence of abortion foes. Led by state Sen. H.L. Richardson (R-Glendora), they are threatening to hold up the state budget unless family planning funds are denied to any agency that so much as refers women to clinics where they might get abortions.

It is an illogical demand. By their very nature, family planning clinics provide a range of information to men and women--information that begins with preventing unwanted pregnancies that often lead to abortions. To require a clinic to withhold some information from its clients distorts the counseling process. To penalize all patrons of a clinic because one element of society objects to advice about abortion, which has been legal in this country for 12 years, would be an abuse of legislative power.

Richardson was doing his worst last week in Sacramento at the same time that the Planned Parenthood Federation was observing the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized birth control. The decision involved Estelle Griswold, executive director of the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Connecticut, and Dr. C. Lee Buxton of the Yale medical school faculty, who were jailed in 1961 for dispensing birth control pills to a married couple. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state law in the case of Griswold vs. Connecticut.

Rather than seeking to limit access to family planning as Richardson is trying to do, responsible state legislators should extol the gains for the health of women and children facilitated by the Griswold decision. In part because couples now can exercise more control over their fertility, the number of women dying in childbirth has been cut from 31.6 per 100,000 live births in 1965 to 7.9 in 1982. The number of infant deaths has been cut in half and the number of unwanted births reduced from 21% to 6.8%.

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Unplanned pregnancies benefit no one. They can weaken the family, not strengthen it. Family planning programs should not be held hostage in the debate over abortion.

The Legislature should let Richardson have his say but not his way on the family planning budget. Then the governor should also leave the funds intact, instead of reducing them as he has in the past.


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