Family Planning Clinics Face Cutoff : It’s a Budget Clerical Error, but Governor Won’t Veto It
The anti-abortion restrictions that Gov. George Deukmejian refused to drop from the 1985-86 budget could mean an immediate cutoff of state family planning funds to many clinics and hospitals now providing services to low-income women throughout the state, including those run by counties.
On Friday, the state Department of Health Services sent telegrams to the 234 public and private agencies that deliver family planning services, warning that they have no guarantee of future state contracts after the new fiscal year begins Monday.
But even as state officials were sounding the alert, they were struggling to interpret what the budget restrictions actually mean to the state’s $34-million-a-year family planning program.
The anti-abortion provision, left in the budget measure sent to the governor because of a legislative clerical error states:
“No funds appropriated for the Office of Family Planning shall be granted, directly or indirectly, to any group, clinic, or organization which performs, promotes, or advertises abortions, or which receives any direct or indirect compensation, advantage, benefit, or gain from referrals for abortion services.”
Deukmejian said in a Friday budget message that he decided to reject pleas from legislators to veto the controversial proposal because he thought it was the correct policy for the state.
The anti-abortion provision got into the budget bill by mistake. Legislative budget writers had voted to remove it but failed to notice that the disputed section showed up in the final printed version sent to Deukmejian.
“The question for me has to be, do I think the language represents the right thing to do? I do,” Deukmejian said Friday.
The clear target of the provision, which was introduced by Sen. H. L. Richardson (R-Glendora) at the request of anti-abortion groups, is Planned Parenthood and its 16 local affiliates, nine of which provide abortions as well as such family planning services as pregnancy testing, sterilization and contraception.
But Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups contend that the restriction would also mean a cutoff of funds to the counties as well, since the counties provide abortions through their various clinics and hospitals.
In 1983, clinics and hospitals operated by the counties performed 5% of the 85,500 abortions paid for by Medi-Cal. And the largest of the counties also receive state money for family planning services.
1,100 Abortions a Year
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services receives about $3 million a year for family planning. Its hospitals and clinics performed more than 1,100 abortion in 1983, the most recent year for which figures are available.
“We don’t know (if the provision applies to the counties),” said Gino Lera, the Department of Health Services’ chief of community health. “It depends on the definition of organization, " whether that term is taken to include county governments. Lera said the matter was still being studied by department attorneys.
Planned Parent Affiliates of California is planning to go to court, possibly as early as Monday, to have the controversial section struck down, said David Alois, a spokesman for the state organization.
In addition to raising constitutional objections to the governor’s action, Alois said Planned Parenthood might argue that the provision should be tossed out because it appeared in the budget as a result of a “monumental clerical error.”
However, John E. Stoos, regional director of the anti-abortion American Life Lobby, argued that if there was a mistake made in the printing of the budget bill, the Legislature could correct it if it chose by passing new legislation.
He said the anti-abortion provision was carefully drafted to avoid constitutional problems. He contended that the restrictions would succeed in the goal of cutting off aid to Planned Parenthood but would permit counties to continue to receive family planning money from the state.
The anti-abortion group has been pushing for restrictions on family planning grants for more than a year, Stoos said. The budget restrictions on advertising was a response to a recent Planned Parenthood nationwide campaign that included full-page newspaper advertisements that carried personal testimonies from women who defended their right to choose to have abortions.
While the legal issues are still undecided, family planning agencies fear that the resulting confusion will damage their programs.
“Programs are calling today asking what does this mean? Are we going to close?” said Diana Bonta, deputy director of the Los Angeles Regional Family Planning Council, a nonprofit agency, which distributes $6.6 million in state funds to 35 family planning agencies in Los Angeles County.