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Priest Quits School Clinic Advisory Panel : Health services: Msgr. Jaime Soto, Latino community liaison, leaves the committee because of possible contraception and abortion information.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A high-ranking Catholic priest has resigned from a committee considering the idea of a health clinic at an elementary school, because information on contraception and abortion might be given out.

“I couldn’t have my name associated with that and risk the confusion, so that prompted my resignation,” Msgr. Jaime Soto, liaison to the Latino community for the Diocese of Orange, said Thursday.

Soto resigned from the 20-member advisory group to the Santa Ana Unified School District last week. In a letter to Supt. Rudy Castruita, Soto said he could no longer serve on the committee because it might appear that he had approved a draft of the clinic’s policies. Those include the possibility that doctors would make referrals to agencies that perform abortions.

In his letter, dated April 3, Soto wrote that the position of the Catholic Church “is and has been clear and unequivocal. We will not sanction the provision of contraceptive or abortion-related services nor the referral to agencies that provide such.”

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His decision to step down came after parents opposed to a clinic at an elementary school demanded to know how the medical staff would respond to a pregnant minor seeking advice, district officials said Thursday.

Although the information would be given only to the child’s parents, those opposed to the clinic were apparently upset when local physicians said they felt bound to provide a range of alternatives, which would include referrals to clinics that perform abortions, and adoption agencies and other agencies designed to help young mothers keep their children.

“This whole conflict came up because we could not guarantee that a referral would be of a certain nature,” said the director of special education, Lucinda G. Hundley, who is on the clinic’s planning team. “It came up because a pressure group of parents said ‘what if.’ ”

Hundley said it is important to remember that the clinic would serve elementary school students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, among whom pregnancy would be a “low-incidence” to non-existent issue.

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However, Soto said he could not attach his name to the draft policy, which mentions the possibility of referrals to abortion clinics.

“Understanding that the incidences will be few, the fact there was a written policy which I would be associated with was something that I could not permit,” he said.

Msgr. Lawrence Baird, spokesman for the Diocese of Orange, said his colleague’s resignation was consistent with his adherence to church teaching.

“Obviously, the right to life is the most fundamental and basic right, and a priest must avoid even the impression of supporting any activity which is opposed to the right to life of the unborn,” he said.

Information on contraception and abortion “is all already available at taxpayer expense for anyone who wants it, and it doesn’t need to be put out on a school campus,” Baird said.

Asked if his resignation from the committee would translate into direct opposition to any proposed clinic, Soto replied: “I will be anxious to see how the clinic will be implemented and how the parents are involved in the clinic.”

But Assistant Supt. Anthony Dalessi expressed concern that Soto’s resignation might encourage more parents to fix upon the abortion issue and to try to scuttle plans if the committee recommends the establishment of a clinic when it meets with the school board on May 14.

“I honestly hope that it doesn’t” have that effect, Dalessi said. “It would be a shame if the study showed that something could be workable (and) it didn’t come to pass because of this issue. Abortion is certainly a long ways away from making basic medical services available to these kids, and that’s the basic purpose of this whole study.”

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