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Governor’s Family Planning Budget Cut Denounced as ‘Callous’ Action

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian’s deep cut in the state budget for family planning was denounced Friday as a “callous and uncaring” action that could cost taxpayers $265 million annually in expenses resulting from unintended pregnancies and births.

The budget cut is expected to curtail or eliminate a wide array of services--including examinations to detect cancer--for 235,000 women who will have nowhere else to turn for their care, the program’s director said. In the Los Angeles area alone, 35 clinics are expected to close.

Deukmejian’s budget veto also represented a devastating blow to feminist groups still reeling from Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision giving states greater leeway to regulate abortion. Family planning providers contended that Deukmejian’s action, ironically, will lead to thousands of additional abortions for California women whose pregnancies could be avoided with proper contraceptive care and counseling.

Cuts Applauded by Some

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But anti-abortion activists applauded the cuts as justified because, they said, the state-supported clinics have failed to prevent pregnancies and instead have relied increasingly on abortion as a form of birth control.

Some abortion opponents, including Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), said the family planning program brought the budget cut on itself. Roberti claimed that the clinics have encouraged abortions.

The $24.1-million cut sliced two-thirds from the $36.2 million the Legislature had approved for the state Office of Family Planning for the 1989-1990 fiscal year, which began July 1. This cut came even as Deukmejian approved 99% of the Legislature’s nearly $50-billion budget for all state operations, granting budget increases to virtually every other major program.

Program Singled Out

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Deukmejian addressed reporters in a brief news conference as he signed the budget in his office Friday, but he declined to explain why he singled out the family planning program for such a drastic cut.

A spokesman for the governor said the cut was needed to maintain the budget’s $1.1-billion “prudent reserve” for emergencies.

The only other clue to the rationale behind the governor’s decision came Thursday in Los Angeles when Deukmejian said in comments after a speech that the family planning program had been ineffective and would be better funded by private sources.

The Office of Family Planning, part of the state Health Services Department, is best known for providing birth control services through contracts with private organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Agencies that use the state money are permitted to counsel pregnant women about abortion but may not use state funds to pay for the procedure.

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Other Services

But the family planning budget also provides other services for poor women, including Pap smears to detect cervical cancer, breast exams and tests for sexually transmitted diseases and the AIDS virus.

Last year, the program served 471,000 women through more than 500 clinics, according to Jerome Hansen, director of the office. Hansen said the budget cuts would most likely be distributed across the board by simply reducing the number of women served.

“You’ve got 235,000 women who no longer have access to that care,” Hansen said, referring to the estimated number of people the program no longer will be able to serve. “It’s not clear where they’re going to get that care, if they are.”

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Norma Clevenger, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said the cuts will lead to more pregnancies and births among poor women who will no longer be able to get birth control. She pointed to the results of a University of California study concluding that for every $1 the state spends on family planning, it saves $11 in other costs that would result from unintended pregnancies and births.

‘It’s Ridiculous’

Under that formula, the $24.1-million cut would amount to about $265 million in added costs to the state.

“It’s ridiculous to assume that this action is going to do anything except increase the need for abortions in this state,” Clevenger said. “It is callous and uncaring.”

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In the Los Angeles area, the cuts are expected to force the closure of 35 private, nonprofit clinics, said Gary Wallach, assistant director of the Los Angeles Regional Family Planning Council. Wallach predicted that the cuts will lead to 65,000 additional California pregnancies in the next year and 35,000 added abortions.

“This is going to mean a whole lot more unwanted children, and a lot of unhappiness in families,” Wallach said. “You’re going to have more child abuse, more drugs, more people in jail. That’s the syndrome we’ve been trying to stop.”

But Brian Johnston, Western director of the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group, said programs such as Planned Parenthood have failed to stop unwanted pregnancies and have instead advocated abortion as a form of birth control.

“If they want to get out of the abortion industry, they will get us off their backs,” Johnston said. “If they were willing to separate abortion from family planning they would not be in this predicament.”

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Senate Leader Roberti, an otherwise liberal Democrat who opposes abortion for religious reasons, said he believes that Deukmejian cut “deeper than he had to” into family planning. But Roberti suggested, as did Johnston, that the family planning agencies brought the problem on themselves.

“I think family planning would have much more across-the-board support if they totally got out of the abortion business,” Roberti said. “I could then myself categorically say the governor was dead wrong.”

Roberti and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) said they hoped to negotiate with Deukmejian to have at least part of the family planning budget restored.


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