The battle over an administration-backed antiabortion amendment to the $142.5 million federal family planning program escalated yesterday, with new charges from the American Nurses' Association, Planned Parenthood and state health officials that the amendment will destroy the program.
Amendment sponsors Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) have vehemently denied they want to hurt the family planning program or reduce its funds. At a news conference on Wednesday, they said their intent is to limit the program to providing birth control advice, which they said was its original purpose. Hatch said family planning groups have reacted to the amendment like "vampires in the sunrise" with exaggerated claims it will harm the basic program.
The law already forbids federally funded family planning clinics from performing abortions or promoting them, but the amendment would go further and bar them from even telling pregnant women that abortion is an option and from providing patients with a list of places where abortions are done. Such counseling and referrals have been a feature of the program for many years and are specifically required by the government's program guidelines.
The amendment would also bar from the federal program any organization that uses its own non-federal money to counsel women on abortion, to make referrals or to perform abortions.
Faye Wattleton, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told a news conference yesterday that the amendment, which Kemp plans to attach to a money bill that continues the family planning program for another year, would "violate medical ethics and deprive women of their constitutional rights."
Representatives of the American Public Health Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officers, American Nurses' Association, National Family Planning Association and other groups joined Wattleton in asserting that medical ethics generally require a doctor or medical adviser to lay out for a patient the full range of medical options for any condition.
Moreover, the state health officials charged, at least 14 states and the District of Columbia are under court order or have chosen to use their own funds to pay for abortions for low-income women. The Kemp-Hatch proposal would bar these states, as well as hospitals that perform abortions, from the federally funded program, virtually eliminating it, they claimed. State health departments and hospitals get about 55 percent of the federal money, Planned Parenthood about 22 percent.
Wattleton, the National Family Planning Association and other groups said they may seek court action to nullify the amendment if it passes.
At the Wednesday press conference, sponsored by the National Right to Life Committee, Hatch said the amendment would simply erect "a wall of separation between federal funding and abortion activities." He said Congress has as much legal right to do this as to bar the use of Medicaid funds to perform abortions.