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Letter to be Read Sunday : Bishop’s Stance Against School Clinic to Hit Pulpit

Times Staff Writer

Roman Catholic priests throughout San Diego will read in church Sunday a letter from Bishop Leo T. Maher condemning a proposal to establish a health clinic in a city school that would distribute contraceptives.

“It would appear that the principal reason (for the health clinic) is to find an apparently legitimized means of providing pregnancy counseling, contraceptives and abortion counseling for teen-age students,” Maher writes in the letter, which will be read to the congregations of about 40 city churches during services Sunday.

The city’s Board of Education last month approved a task force to study the creation of a health clinic, which could also provide physical examinations, immunizations, laboratory tests and counseling that many teen-agers are not receiving. The panel will hold its first meeting Thursday.

Maher’s letter states that offering contraceptives to schoolchildren “is inherently evil, for it tacitly encourages them to act promiscuously. It clearly suggests to them that they are ‘safe’ to behave as though they were married adults, without any awareness of the responsibilities of adulthood or marriage.”

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In response to school officials’ suggestion that the clinic would be best-suited for a low-income neighborhood, Maher contends that “a principal underlying motivation for establishing these health centers is racist, namely to deprive ethnic minorities of their right to have children.”

Edward Fletcher, director of health services for the school district, said, “I was just shocked when he said that (the proposal) was racist. I just couldn’t believe it.

“It’s not just black girls or Mexican girls. It’s all girls.”

Maher’s letter also attacks Planned Parenthood, saying that “this organization’s overriding concern is birth control, regardless of whether this is achieved by contraception or abortion.” He criticizes “the mentality of Planned Parenthood, which is insidious in its attack on the lives of the unborn.”

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“I think that the bishop has certainly misrepresented Planned Parenthood’s mission,” responded Lenore Lowe, director of community affairs for Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside counties.

“Planned Parenthood supports every individual’s right to make their own decisions about reproduction. That includes their right to carry a pregnancy to term, as well as their right to an abortion or birth control.”

In 1981, the latest year for which figures are available, about 1.1 million females between the ages of 15 and 19 became pregnant, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York City. Planned Parenthood estimates that 2,772 San Diego County girls age 17 and under became pregnant in 1984.

Forty-two school-based health clinics are in operation across the United States, mainly in high schools. Nine give out contraceptives, said Douglas Kirby, director of research for the Center for Population Options in Washington. Last month, the Los Angeles school board voted to establish a pilot health clinic that will offer contraceptives.

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