Suit Filed to Void Abortion Error in State Budget

Times Staff Writer

A controversial budget provision blocking the flow of state family planning money to any organization that performs, promotes or advertises abortions was challenged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday by Planned Parenthood and the Los Angeles Regional Family Planning Council.

The organizations asked the 2nd District Court of Appeal in San Francisco to block implementation of the abortion restrictions, which were left in the new budget by mistake.

In the lawsuit, the two organizations charge that the provision violates the intent of the Legislature and is an unconstitutional infringement on a woman's right to make her own, informed decision on whether to terminate a pregnancy.

"It's a mean-spirited, completely punitive measure that does not serve the purpose it's intended for," said the attorney for the groups, Jay-Allen Eisen, at a press conference.

Budget Provision

The family planning agencies' lawsuit argues that the budget provision violates a woman's right to obtain the information needed to decide whether to have an abortion.

The suit also charges that the provision unconstitutionally restricts free speech rights of family planning agencies by withholding state money from any agency that uses private funds to gain public support for its views on abortion. Planned Parenthood is conducting such a campaign in newspapers across the country.

Legislators thought they had eliminated the abortion restrictions when they approved the budget last month. However, the anti-abortion provision was inadvertently left in the final version of the budget. Neither the lawmakers nor their aides noticed the clerical error until after the measure went to Gov. George Deukmejian.

Arguing that the restrictions were simply "the right thing," Deukmejian rejected pleas to veto them.

An estimated 500,000 low-income women receive pregnancy tests, contraceptive prescriptions or sterilizations from clinics supported by the $34 million-a-year state family planning budget.

On Wednesday, state health officials were still trying to determine what the anti-abortion provision will mean to more than 200 public and private agencies that receive state money.

"It does not impact on the right of a woman to have an abortion," said Gino Lera of the state Department of Health Services. "And it does not impact on Medi-Cal (which provides abortions to low-income women) at all."

Lera said that under existing law, family planning clinics throughout the state must continue to present a pregnant woman with all medical options "in a balanced manner."

However, officials still are uncertain whether the prohibition will affect county health departments and University of California hospitals, which receive state funds to operate family planning clinics but also perform abortions with other funds.

The uncertainty has already prompted the UC San Francisco family planning clinic to announce it will stop providing services under its contract with the state on Monday unless the issue is resolved.

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