2 Bills Curbing High School Health Clinics Fall Short
Two bills aimed at prohibiting high school health clinics from providing abortion counseling to students and from prescribing or dispensing contraceptives were defeated Tuesday in their first legislative test before an Assembly committee.
The nearly identical measures, backed by a coalition of pro-life groups, parents and the Christian Action Council of Southern California, were severely criticized by several groups as trying to usurp local school board control over the clinics.
Additionally, opponents told the Assembly Education Committee that only a small percentage of the work done at the eight clinics statewide has anything to do with family planning matters or sexually related medical problems such as venereal disease.
Also, the Legislature’s chief lawyer said that the ban sought by the measures conflicted with the U.S. Constitution on matters of rights to privacy, equal protection and free speech.
Assemblywoman Marian La Follette (R-Northridge), author of one of the bills, said the very existence of the clinics sends a message that the schools approve of sexual promiscuity.
“We’re telling them to have sex,” La Follette told the committee. She was able to muster only six votes, with nine required for approval by the 16-member committee.
In a press conference before the hearing, La Follette acknowledged to supporters that “this is an uphill fight.”
“In the process of teaching our children about sex, we should be teaching them that sex is a sacred and special expression of love between two people and should be saved for the institution of marriage,” she said. “We should not be readily handing out contraceptives and making abortion referrals which encourage sexual risk-taking and a high level of unintended pregnancy among our children.”
The author of the second bill, Assemblyman Bill Bradley (R-San Marcos), said that while La Follette wanted to prohibit abortion counseling and referrals to abortion clinics as well as place a ban on giving students contraceptives, his sole intent was to prevent schools from telling students to seek out abortion clinics.
Bradley’s bill fell four votes short of passage.
Groups ranging from the California State PTA and California Teachers Assn. to the California Medical Assn. and the American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against any state intrusion into the way the school clinics are operated. Most of the clinics are located in poor areas with inadequate health care.
“Students need help but don’t know where to get it,” said Arlene Black, spokeswoman for the American Assn. of University Women. She and others said that more education, not less, is needed in the area of teen-age pregnancy.
In a telephone interview, Maria Reza, coordinator of the school-based health clinics for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said that the clinics need the consent of parents before they are able to treat students.
More important, she said, the city’s three clinics, located at Los Angeles, Jordan and San Fernando high schools, do not offer any abortion counseling or referrals to abortion clinics. Instead, Reza said, a student who says she is pregnant is referred to a hospital.
The three schools dispense contraceptives, but only with parents’ consent, she said.
Of particular concern to Reza was a part of La Follette’s bill that would prevent school-based clinics from referring any sick student to an agency or hospital that also offers abortion.
The issue of abortion counseling at the school clinics has been an emotional one. In San Fernando Valley, 1,000 people marched along Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima in December to protest the opening of a clinic at San Fernando High School.
Debate over the clinics has touched other parts of California as well. Two years ago, San Diego school trustees killed a proposal to establish a health clinic in a city school, but only after bitter debate.
In addition to Los Angeles, there are two clinics in San Jose and one each in San Francisco, Oakland and Culver City.