Few social or political issues have inspired more divisiveness in recent years than those involving reproductive rights. Despite the raging controversy, however, broad consensus has developed on at least one crucial point: Intelligent family planning improves the quality of individual lives and strengthens the social fabric.
Recognizing those clear benefits, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1971 approved a bill adding family planning services to California’s maternal and child-health program. Before 1971, the needs of large numbers of people, especially teen-agers, were not being met.
With the establishment of the state Office of Family Planning in 1973, low-income women and men were offered family planning services without regard to age or marital status. Birth-control techniques, cervical and breast cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV (AIDS) testing and a range of other counseling and referral services have been provided on an ability-to-pay basis. (Family-planning funds are not used for abortions, nor do they subsidize abortion services.)
Through its education program, state-funded family-planning agencies help low-income teen-agers and their parents learn about reproductive health care. This educational campaign is vital in a state where unplanned parenthood among adolescents accounts for 80% of female high school dropouts and 40% of male dropouts, and where one in every five births to a teen-ager is a second child. A UC San Francisco study recently estimated that California’s one-year public cost for women who had their first children while still in their teens was $3.08 billion. Had these births been delayed until the mother was 20 years old, 40%, or $1.23 billion, could have been saved.
Last year, approximately 500,000 low-income Californians received family-planning services through agencies funded by the state Office of Family Planning. Nearly one-third were teens. Another report from UC San Francisco estimates that for every dollar spent on family planning, California taxpayers saved $6.60 in additional health and social services.
Now Gov. George Deukmejian proposes abolishing the state Office of Family Planning. His 1990 budget includes draconian cuts in various health and welfare programs. The plan for family planning is not just a cut, but total elimination. And leaving no doubt about his intentions, the governor has already served notice on the Legislature that, should it fail to go along with his proposal, he will use his line-item veto to reduce the allocation for family planning by two-thirds.
The governor’s apparent rationale is that family-planning agencies are receiving an influx of new federal grants resulting from the Immigration Reform Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. Also, funds from the new cigarette and tobacco tax initiative (Proposition 99) supposedly will generate additional revenues for local health care.
Unfortunately, neither of these sources can replace the state appropriation for family planning. Proposition 99 revenues are not legislated to go to community health clinics, where one-third of family- planning services are rendered. Immigration assistance funds are specifically earmarked for amnesty-eligible immigrants and cannot be used to serve others.
Moreover, the state legislative analyst has pointed out that the governor’s estimates for immigration funds coming into California may be unrealistic, and the program itself is only geared to last until 1992. What funds will cover newly legalized applicants then? What funds will cover the rest of the low-income population who require family planning now?
Even with state funding at its current level, clinics and other health providers are able to reach only half of the low-income women in California eligible to receive birth-control services. The governor’s action seriously jeopardizes the health of these women. It also threatens to destroy a fragile infrastructure of family-planning providers in the state. After decades of cost-effective health delivery to California’s neediest citizens, many local clinics and other facilities that depend on state funding to serve their communities may have to close their doors forever.
The timing of the governor’s proposal is especially ominous. Just this month, the March of Dimes issued a report identifying the rate of infant mortality for blacks in Los Angeles County as the highest in the nation. Another study, conducted by researchers at UCLA and USC, found that rates of cervical cancer for black women and Latinas in the county are 50% higher than for white women. The prenatal care and cancer screening necessary to reverse such horrific statistics are among the central services that community clinics provide.
Few constituencies have less political clout than those served by local family-planning agencies. Minorities, immigrants, low-income women--these are the groups who will suffer most if the state Office of Family Planning is no longer available to address their needs. Maybe that is why the governor feels he can abolish it with a stroke of the pen. If he succeeds, however, he will also be abolishing a primary line of defense in the battle to control disease, break the cycle of poverty and ensure a healthier future for all Californians.