A Department of Health, Education and Welfare task force on alternatives to abortion has finished its work with its leader concluding the only real alternatives are "suicide, motherhood and some would add, madness."
The remarks were included in a memo sent to HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. last summer by Connie J. Downey. She recommended the staff task force she headed be disbanded because it lacked the direction, authority and money to find the underlying problems of unwanted pregnancies.
The group's work was subsequently taken over by a second task force on teenage pregnancies. Last month, it recommended that President Carter launch a $200 million war on teenage pregnancy next year.
Eileen Shanahan, assistant HEW secretary for public affairs, disclosed the recommendations yesterday. She said they include a fullscale sex education program, a new program to prevent "second, third and fourth pregnancies" among unmarried teenagers, an effore to help unmarried teenage mothers "get back on their feet," and stepped-up efforts to file lawsuits against school systems that expel pregnant teenagers.
She said 1 million unwanted pregnancies occur among teenagers each year, and about 600,000 choose to keep their babies.
Califano, who, like President Carter opposes abortions, set up the task force to look for alternatives to abortion early this year. It was headed by Downey, acting director of special project planning HEW.
She said the memo sent to Califano was intended as "an internal working paper with no substantive proposals or program suggestion intended for the public."
Associated Press reporter Michael Putzel obtained a copy of the fivepage document. In it, Downey said women who seek government-paid abortions have numerous problems ranging from concerns for their personal health to fears of the future.
"Abortion is but one alternative solutioin to many of these problems," she said. "It is an option, uniquely, which is exercised between conception and live birth. As such, the literal alternatives to it are suicide, motherhood and,some would ad, madness.
"Consequently, there is some confusion, discomfort and cynicism greeting efforts to 'find' or 'emphasize' or 'identify' alternatives to abortion."
Downey said the second team looking into problems of teenage pregnancy soon was overlapping, supplanting or superseding the efforts of her task force.
The teenage pregnancy program she said, is "an effort guaranteed to succeed since satistically, the problem has peaked, and the momentum of the issue itself bodes well for an easy win for these efforts, irrespective of whether or not they are effectively programmed."
The abortion issue has divided both the Carter administration and Congress for months. And the question of government-paid abortions for poor women under Medicaid has kept Senate and House conferees from agreeing on an HEW appropriations bill for months.
She recommended that Califano could find safer political ground if he renamed her group the "Alternatives for Unwanted Pregnancies" task force.
"The effectively removes the discussion from the emotional climate surrounding the abortion issue and allows a rational search for a broader spectrum of solutions to a serious problem," she wrote.
Shanahan yesterday dismissed the Downey memo as"having little or no policy standing." She said it was "simply an expression of personal opinion" that did not even represent a consensus of the task force.