A proposed teen-agers' clinic that would dispense contraceptives to students at Alexandria's only public high school has won the support of a majority of the seven-member City Council and appears headed for approval.
Four council members -- Mayor James P. Moran Jr., Vice Mayor Patsy S. Ticer, T. Michael Jackson and Robert L. Calhoun -- said late last week that they plan to vote for the clinic; a fifth member, Redella S. (Dell) Pepper, said she probably would. The council is scheduled to take up the matter Dec. 8.
The clinic would be the first public facility of its kind in the Washington area, and has generated a storm of opposition, particularly from conservative Catholics and antiabortion activists. The only council member who has publicly opposed the clinic, Carlyle C. (Connie) Ring Jr., has said he believes the city should respect the convictions of those who oppose birth control on moral grounds.
The seventh council member, Lionel R. Hope, said he is undecided about the clinic and would favor an advisory referendum on the subject, an idea initially proposed by clinic opponents. A majority of council members have said they oppose a referendum.
Several council members who favor the clinic said that details of the plan that have yet to be worked out, such as the clinic's location and staff size, are likely to cause continued debate. They also stressed that they view the clinic as part of a larger effort to lower Alexandria's teen-age pregnancy rate, and not as a quick fix.
"I don't think we should be giving out condoms just because students ask for them," Jackson said. "Every student ought to be informed that they should first rely on sexual abstinence. I don't want students to get the impression that this is a condom vending machine that will protect them."
Calhoun and Pepper, who along with Jackson had not previously indicated that they are favorably inclined toward the clinic, also said they want to make sure that the availability of birth control devices does not encourage students to have sex, a potential problem repeatedly cited by critics of the proposed clinic.
"I think the opponents made a valid point, and that is that the clinic alone would be treating a symptom rather than treating the problem," Calhoun said. "The clinic has got to be part of a comprehensive approach to the problem of teen pregnancy."
Pepper said, "I'm probably going to be in favor of the clinic, including the birth control aspects. But I would sure like to see a very concerted effort made toward instituting programs about just saying no."
Representatives of the anticlinic lobbying group, Concerned Alexandrians for Responsible Education, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The clinic was proposed 18 months ago, and Moran appointed a task force to study the idea. The proposal gained momentum this fall when Virginia Health Department statistics showed that Alexandria's teen pregnancy rate is the highest in the state, and escalating rapidly.
According to the Health Department figures, almost 18 percent of the teen-age girls in Alexandria got pregnant last year. More than half who got pregnant had abortions.
Moran and Ticer, citing their concern about the statistics, have been the council's most ardent advocates of the clinic.
"We have a real crisis, and it's irresponsible for us not to try to intervene," Ticer said. "I have never thought the clinic would be the total answer, but it's a start. If you educate people and help them make decisions, that's good."
The clinic has posed particular problems for the mayor and council member Jackson, both Catholics. The Catholic Diocese of Arlington, which includes most of Northern Virginia, has been a leader in the anticlinic movement.
"It has been extremely difficult," Moran said. "Two of my Catholic friends told me recently that when they told their pastor they supported the clinic, he told them they would no longer be eligible to receive the sacraments in that church. But I see my Christian commitment as being based on reason and facts and compassion, not dogma and ideology."
Moran said the proposal that will come before council Dec. 8 will recommend that the clinic be located "within easy walking distance" of T.C. Williams High School. The clinic task force recommended that the facility be located "in or near" the school, but several council members have said they would oppose putting it on campus, citing political or practical reasons.
"I don't want it in the school building itself because then those young people who have dropped out of school or attend private schools could not use it," Moran said.
He said that he and City Manager Vola Lawson have found a potential site near the school, but that it would not be available for a year. Should the council settle on that location, he said, the clinic could initially be housed in a temporary structure, such as a modular classroom.
The council also has not decided how many staff members the clinic should have. The task force recommended three, a physician's assistant and two counselors, but Moran said current proposals range from three to five, including a physician.
The Alexandria School Board endorsed the clinic proposal Nov. 19 on a 6-to-2 vote, with one abstention.