SECRETARY RICHARD SCHWEIKER of the Department of Health and Human Services is getting a bum rap, and along with him, so is the Reagan administration. Reports of the demise of family planning are at least clearly premature, yet concern about them is mounting everywhere. No less a person than Carol Bellamy, president of the City Council of New York, took to the pages of this newspaper this week stating that "one of the most flagrant examples of misguided budget-slashing came recently from [Schweiker], who called for the elimination of federal funding of sex education and contraception for teen-agers, thus ignoring social reality."
In fact, the public record does not bear out this assertion any more than the Reagan budget does. Funds for family planning services, including services for teen-agers, are still in the Reagan budget: most are included in the Preventive Health Services Block Grant that would be given to the states and local jurisdictions to administer. The federal government is authorized to spend roughly $250 million for family planning services through four different programs in 1981. Most of the money goes for counseling and health care. Very little goes to sex education, and while most of the programs are being cut 25 percent, that still leaves millions that the states can use for family planning.
The preception that the family planning programs were in imminent danger started immediately after a Jan. 29 press conference at which Schweiker was asked whether he thinks the federal government has a role in sex education and whether it ought to be distributing contraceptives through Medicaid. Schweiker answered that, no, he did not think that the federal government ought to be in the sex-education business and, no, he did not think doctors should be permitted to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried teen-aged girls under Medicaid.
Less publicized were the rest of his remarks, which, according to a transcript, made it clear he did not intend to do away with sex education altogether. Asked about a conflict between his views on contraception and his stand against abortion, he replied: "Now wait a minute. I think sex education is something that the parents and whatever local school decision there is has to be made.
"I -- we have it in the Fairfax County schools and we had to sign a parental approval form. I think that's a perfectly normal way to let the family and the school participate if the parent chooses . . . I don't think it's the fed's role to do it and I don't think it's a state role unless the local school agency does it with the express approval of the parent."
On Feb. 25, under questioning at a Ways and Means Committee hearing, Schweiker said that newspaper reports that he was in favor of terminating family planning services and supplies to those on welfare were incorrect. "What I was asked was what my personal views were about giving teen-agers family planning devices. And all I said was, basically, I felt we ought to involve the parents in some way in the process, either with parental consultation or consent. That was a personal opinion. I have voted for family planning services as a senator and I support family planning per se. The point I was trying to make was I didn't think the government should completely supplant the family in this operation and push them aside."
Further, in answer to a question, Schweiker indicated that he did not intend to translate his personal views into department policy.
The brouhaha over family planning and sex education comes at a time when The Alan Guttmacher Institute is releasing findings of a teen-age pregnancy study that presents compelling evidence of increasing sexual activity by teen-agers and increasing numbers of teen-ager pregnancies. If the current trend is not reversed, according to the study, four in 10 of today's teen-age girls will have at least one pregnancy, two in 10 will have one birth and more than one in seven will have an abortion while still in their teens.
The study found a steady rise in contraception use among teen-agers, but perhaps the most startling finding was that more than half of the 10 million sexually active teen-agers thought out of ignorance that they could not get pregnant. In 1975, according to the study, about half of the $9.4 billion that went into Aid to Families With Dependent Children went to families in which the mother had given birth as a teen-ager.
Clearly the nation has an important social and financial stake in preventing teen-age pregnancy and if there is any merit in the misperception of Schweiker's position it is that it is focusing attention on the problem. The debate should not be over family planning and sex education but whether the states and local jurisdictions can run sex education and family planning programs better than the federal government. And who knows? Maybe the Reagan administration is right on this one.
The federal government has been running sex education and family planning programs since 1965, yet half of today's sexually active teens still didn't know that sexual intercourse is a leading cause of pregnancy and two-thirds have never practiced contraception or have done so inconsistently. The federal government, it would seem, hasn't done much better than a lot of parents.